In the latest sign that hacking attacks are increasingly compromising safety systems, 1,400 passengers of Polish flag carrier LOT Polish Airlines were stuck in Warsaw after the company discovered it was unable to file flight plans for its departing aircraft due to a sophisticated attack on its computer network.
According to reports the airline's ground computer system, which is used to issue flight plans, was hacked on Sunday afternoon.
The system was supposedly "fixed" after five hours, but the incident resulted in ten cancellations and more than a dozen flights being delayed.
LOT stated that it had "encountered IT attack, that affected our ground operation systems. As a result we’re not able to create flight plans, and outbound flights from Warsaw are not able to depart."
"We'd like to underline, that it has no influence on plane systems. Aircrafts already airborne will continue their flights. Planes with flight plans already filed will return to Warsaw normally," it further elaborated.
A LOT spokesperson claimed that the company had taken care of the passengers on Sunday night and stated it was providing hotels for those who needed to stay the night in Warsaw.
Spokesman Adrian Kubicki went on record as saying that at no point was the safety of ongoing flights compromised.
"We're using state-of-the-art computer systems, so this could potentially be a threat to others in the industry," Kubicki said.
Yet the attack is now being investigated by the authorities and in these cases its best to assume the worst rather than what the victim is telling you, given they have every incentive to downplay the significance.
Its likely in this case that attackers didn't mean to disrupt the safety of the airline yet likely did so accidentally or potentially could have. Any compromise of an airline reservation system, for instance, could allow unauthorized passengers to board the aircraft.
The full scope of the damage won't emerge for a few weeks, as the FBI and other EU agencies are all investigating, showing just how serious the incident was.