Most of us panic when the lights go off. God help us when we lose our Internet connection.
And when something external happens to remind us that our whole, digitally inspired existence hinges on connections beyond our control … well, let's just say it's not surprising that we get a little paranoid.
Today has been a bad day for those with high levels of mistrust and suspicions. And it's been even worse for technology.
Earlier today, 3,500 of United Continental's worldwide flights were grounded for 90 minutes due to a system-wide computer failure. The Federal Aviation Administration said all of the air carriers' flights were grounded because of an outage with the reservations and check-in system.
Then trading was halted at the New York Stock Exchange because of a technical issue. The NYSE put out an alert just after 8 am ET about "a reported issue with a gateway connection" affecting certain symbols, claimed it was resolved at 10:37 a.m. ET — and then stopped trading completely an hour later.
The NYSE blamed the series of events on an "internal technical issue" rather than a cyberattack. But it's worth noting — just to pique the anxiety of the paranoid among us — that it followed a veiled threat from the hacker group Anonymous yesterday.
Wonder if tomorrow is going to be bad for Wall Street.... we can only hope.— Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) July 7, 2015
The Wall Street Journal went down, too. All you could find on the newspaper's homepage was a warning about a 504 outage, though you could access other sections of the newspaper's website, such as its Markets page.
And I'm going out on a limb here and stating the following are probably not related, but my Internet connection has been wonky all day and I've been trying for more than two hours to upload a 6 minute video to Box.com.
What the hell is going on?
Remain Calm, Please
White House officials claim President Obama has been briefed.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission said it is "closely monitoring the situation" with the NYSE and the FBI has offered its assistance, although “No further law enforcement action is needed at this time,” FBI New York spokesperson Kelly Langmesser noted in a statement.
United is pointing the finger at HP, which makes the solution the airline uses for its computer reservations system (CRS) and to check passengers onto its planes. HP has denied that its solution was to blame for the outage.
So What's Up?
Jonathan Cran, VP of Operations at Bugcrowd, a cybersecurity firm, said, “It’s probably safe to call this series of outages unrelated for now. The NYSE confirmed that it's not an external hacker.
"United Airlines was down briefly, but they had a similar incident in June, and blamed it on a merger with another airline, which we have no reason to disbelieve.
"United recently started a bug bounty, incentivizing skilled security talent to help them with outages like this, and that’s definitely a great step in the right direction. If successful, it should give consumers confidence in their ability to secure and maintain their systems.
"Given the current state of affairs in network and computer security, the speculation that these events could be malicious is not unwarranted.
"However, the capability to run a cyber operation that would take (and keep) down an airline, a stock exchange and a newspaper simultaneously would require a vast amount of resources, and this is not the modus operandi of nation states. They are strongly incentivized to keep access to systems quiet, and only take down systems as a last resort."
Hmmm. Understood. Still, there are so many potential groups of hackers with mayhem on their minds, far removed from affiliations with nation states.
CMSWire reporter Scott Fulton, who has been writing about technology longer than he cares to admit, said major glitches that happen in sync are generally not the result of a coordinated attack. "Rather, it's when a malicious payload is timed to activate, and that payload comes from a common source," he explained.
Both United booking agents and NYSE transaction officers look through their consumer-facing portals for up-to-date information. "I'm not 100 percent positive about the NYSE case, but airline portals serve up Flash-based ads from a variety of sources. We've all seen where Flash ads have been used before as a simple, common exploitation vector. My first suspicion, therefore, is that both these services (and a few others we haven't heard about yet) are the victims of a malicious, timed Flash ad exploit," he theorized.
A bad day for technology? Sure. Simple coincidence? Maybe. Nefarious? Well, let's not get carried away.
But it wouldn't hurt to swing by an ATM while you can, just to get a little cash on hand — just in case the computer glitches get worse.