Investigating the FAA Outage: Separating Fact from Fiction

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Investigating the FAA Outage: Separating Fact from Fiction - SKIT

On January 11th, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) experienced a nationwide outage that caused widespread delays and cancellations for flights across the United States. The outage was caused by a problem with the FAA’s NOTAM (Notice To Air Mission) system.

NOTAMs are messages issued by the FAA to provide pilots with important information about flight restrictions, hazards, and other critical information. The NOTAM system is a critical component of the FAA’s air traffic control infrastructure, and the outage caused a ripple effect throughout the entire aviation system. Flights were grounded or delayed at airports across the country, and many pilots were unable to file flight plans or receive important information about the airspace they were flying in.

The FAA initially reported that the outage was caused by a problem with the system’s hardware, but later confirmed that it was due to a software issue. The FAA’s technical teams worked quickly to resolve the problem, but it still took several hours for the system to be fully restored.

While the FAA was able to restore the system relatively quickly, the impact of the outage was still felt for several days. Many flights were cancelled or delayed, and passengers faced long lines and wait times at airports. The FAA also issued a ground stop for flights headed to certain airports, which prevented flights from taking off until the NOTAM system was back online.

The Noise – Was This a Cyberattack?

Was this a cyberattack? - SKIT

Almost immediately, social media was flooded with theories of a potential cyberattacks, parallels to recent events like the water treatment plant and potential cover-ups.  It is natural for our minds to immediately jump to conclusions, especially when it comes to major events that disrupt our daily lives. However, when it comes to cyberattacks, it is important to not immediately assume that a major event is related to a cyberattack without proper investigation and evidence.

First and foremost, cyberattacks can often be difficult to detect and understand, and it may take time to determine the true cause of an event. Jumping to conclusions without all the facts can lead to misinformation and false accusations, which can cause further harm and damage.

Additionally, assuming that a major event is related to a cyberattack can also lead to a lack of focus on other potential causes. For example, a power outage could be caused by a cyberattack, but it could also be caused by a natural disaster or a mechanical failure. By not considering all potential causes, important information and potential solutions may be overlooked.

My Take

As previously mentioned, the core issue was identified a software issues or more specifically a corrupted file which appears to have persisted in backup copies, according to a report by CNN.  It has yet to be determined if this was intentional or accidental, as the incident response team (IRT) is still in the infancy of its investigation. The United States government at the time of this post has indicated that they do not believe this was a cyber-related event.

It is important to note that corrupted files can happen for a variety of reasons. Hardware failure, such as a malfunctioning hard drive or memory chip, can cause data to become corrupt or inaccessible. Human error, like accidentally deleting a file or saving over a file without a backup, can also lead to corrupted files. 

Malware, like viruses and ransomware, can corrupt files by altering or encrypting the data, making it difficult to recover. Software bugs can also cause corruption, where a program encounters an error and is unable to save the file correctly. Power outages can also cause files to become corrupt if the computer is not properly shut down.   

By all accounts, it is likely feasible that the last two may have been the culprit, but we need to remain patient until more details emerge.  It goes without saying that it is not enough to just have backups, but to ensure they are regularly tested.

Lessons Learned

This outage highlights the importance of the FAA’s air traffic control system and the critical role it plays in the safe and efficient operation of flights in the United States. It also serves as a reminder that even the most advanced technology can experience unexpected problems and that it’s important to have tested backup systems in place to minimize the impact of such issues.

Equally important, we should approach major events with a level-headed and methodical approach, and to not rush to conclusions without proper investigation and evidence. Gathering all the facts and considering all potential causes can ensure that the true cause of an event is identified and that the appropriate actions are taken to mitigate any damage and prevent future incidents.

A good data backup strategy should be in place, and to have software and tools to detect, diagnose and recover from corrupted files. Regular software updates, rollback procedures and malware scans can also help to prevent and mitigate large impact to critical operations.

Overall, the FAA’s ability to restore the system relatively quickly is commendable, but it’s important to remember that the outage caused significant disruptions for many travelers and the aviation industry as a whole. The FAA should strive to avoid such situations in the future and make sure that necessary measures are in place to minimize the impact of any future outages.


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For over 20 years, I have had the distinct opportunity to work in the Information Technology space under a variety of distinct roles. My unique position has helped me become a risk management Maven for Fortune 500 and Small Business Companies around the world. For the last 12 years, I have assisted Small Business Owners and Insurance Agency understand the impacts of Cyber Incident exposures and what steps to take to help mitigate potential data breaches. My desire to expand my reach related to cyber security has led me to establish the Sage Knows IT blog as a way to help Small Business Owners and aspiring Information Technology (I.T.) Professionals better understand the road-maps of I.T. through the experiences I have had. Information Technology and Information Security is the future of our world and I hope this blog will inspire those that are interested in joining our ever involving field.

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