British Airways hacking: Data breach strikes thousands of customers

A British Airways aircraft stands on a parking position at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, 29 May 2017. [EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN]

A highly coordinated cyber attack has hit the UK’s largest airline, British Airways, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of customers, with masses of financial and personal data stolen by hackers in what BA boss Alex Cruz called “a very sophisticated, malicious attack.”

The strike impacts customers who have made bookings on the airline’s website between August 21 and September 5, the International Airlines Group said on Thursday (6 September).

Europe struggles to tackle cyber attacks in aviation

Cyber threats to the aviation sector are rapidly becoming a major issue for airlines, aircraft manufacturers and authorities. But Europe is finding legacy problems and new challenges to address cyber risks for its air transportation systems.

“The moment we found out that actual customer data had been compromised, that’s when we began an all-out immediate communication to our customers, that was the priority,” Alex Cruz, BA’s chief executive and chairman, told BBC radio.

The airline also stated that compensation will be offered to customers who lose out financially from the breach.

The mishap adds to British Airways’ woes in the field of cybersecurity, an area in which the company has suffered a number of setbacks in recent years.

Such instances include a May 2017 power outage that resulted in the airline’s information systems crashing, in addition to an event in July of this year in which around 7,000 BA passengers had their flights cancelled after an IT system failure.

Cruz, however, was keen to assert that the recent hacking was not a breach of the airline’s encryption.

“No, our data is encrypted,” he said. “There were other methods, very sophisticated efforts, by criminals in obtaining the data.”

Hackers bombard aviation sector with over 1,000 attacks per month

As airlines and airports increasingly become targets of cyber attacks, the EU’s aviation safety agency has urged taking cyber threats “seriously” by launching a common strategy.

Subscribe to our newsletters