Coordinated Cyber Attack? New York Stock Exchange Halted, United Airlines System Outage stops Air Traffic

Three major cyber failures today is causing concern among cyber security experts. Within the span of a couple of hours, United Airlines, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Stock Exchange all experienced cyber outages that ground business to a screeching halt.

United Airlines Goes Down

This morning, right around 8 a.m. EDT, United Airlines was forced to ground their fleet of airplanes due to what the airline is calling a “network connectivity issue.” The outage lasted for over two hours, and affected somewhere around 3,500 flights.

In a statement to the press, United said that “We are recovering from a network connectivity issue this morning and restoring regular flight operations. We will have a waiver available at united.com for customers who are able to change their flight plans.”

The New York Stock Exchange Grinds to a Halt

Shortly after the United Airlines outage, trading was halted for more than two hours on the New York Stock Exchange floor. NYSE officials are blaming the shut down on “technical issues.” “The issue we are experiencing is an internal technical issue and is not the result of a cyber breach,” the exchange tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “We chose to suspend trading on NYSE to avoid problems arising from our technical issue.”

At the same time, the website for the Wall Street Journal went down, with a message appearing on the home page blaming “technical difficulties” for the outage.

DHS says no Cyber Attacks Detected

The Department of Homeland Security is denying today’s outages were part of a coordinated cyber-attack, and claims it’s all just one big coincidence.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson released the following statement.

The malfunctions at United and the NYSE were not the result of any nefarious actor,” Johnson said, adding that he spoke with the CEO of United, Jeff Smisek, earlier on Wednesday. “We know less about the Wall Street Journal at this point, but their system is back up again, as is United Airlines,” he said.

The outages, coincidental or not, has a number of security experts warning that these systems are all vulnerable to attack. In fact, while DHS is claiming this is all coincidental, Zerohedge was tracking and active Chinese DDOS attack that was hitting a data center in St. Louis.

Cyber Norse Chart
Chinese DDOS hackers focusing on St. Louis all morning…

Others are pointing to an ominous tweet from an account associated with the online hacker collective known as Anonymous that read: “Wonder if tomorrow is going to be bad for Wall Street,” … “We can only hope.”

The Cyber Threat: What’s coming?

The truth is we are always under some sort of cyber-attack. Just last April, President Obama signed an Executive Order declaring a National Emergency to deal with the increasing number of cyber threats. The order expanded the “spectrum of tools” the government can use to combat these cyber-attacks; including giving the President the power to order pre-emptively launch cyber strikes to protect national security interests.

How serious is the threat?

Speaking at a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and commander of the U.S .Cyber Command, admitted that China and a handful of other countries already possess the ability to launch a cyber-attack that could shut down the entire U.S. power grid.

Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, this country is under constant cyber-attack. In 2012, Damon Petraglia, Cyber-Terrorism expert and member of US Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force, told us “our military systems are probed in excess of hundreds of thousands of times per hour. Our private industry can claim similar statistics.”

How can you prepare for large-scale cyber wars?

Preparing for cyber-related disasters is similar to the preparations one would make for any type of disaster that affects food and water supplies and access to emergency services.

Threat Assessment: Performing a realistic threat assessment can help you understand the threat and can help you come up with concrete actions that you need to take during a  large-scale cyber-attack.

Emergency Communication: When the power lines go down and the internet stops working, you’re going to need a good communication plan in place. Having a Multiband Ham Radio will allow you to send and receive critical emergency information during a disaster. It’s also a great way to find alternative news sources from around the world — news you won’t hear on your favorite cable news channel.

Always have Cash on Hand: One of the first targets will likely be our power grid and/or our financial systems. During either scenario, an attack will most likely cripple electronic commerce. During a full-scale cyber war, cash will play a major role in how people buy and sell during the initial stages of the crisis.

Start Stockpiling Preparedness Supplies: Our entire system is incredibly dependent on computer technology; if a cyber-attack were to take down our vital infrastructure for a long period of time, you will see major shortages and supply chain problems.

Make sure you have the basics covered: water, shelter, food and personal protection.  At a minimum, you should always have at least a two weeks supply of goods on hand. Once you have that covered, set a goal to stockpile enough for 3, 6 and then 12 months.

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