Chinese hackers who attacked the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and Anthem, a U.S. based health insurance company, are said to have also hacked into the security system of United Airlines.
The cyber attacks on OPM and Anthem left the data of millions of people exposed to hackers. United Airlines, which is the second largest airline in the world, was also reportedly targeted by the same Chinese hackers who tried to breach the security of OPM and Anthem.
Experts suggest that data stolen from OPM would have enabled hackers to categorize Americans working in intelligence and defense departments, as well as those working for contractors. Federal officials believe that these Chinese hackers are associated with the government of China.
Personal data stolen from companies such as Anthem can be used by hackers to blackmail people. Security experts suggest that Anthem and OPM are not the only victims of Chinese hackers but a minimum of 10 organizations, including health insurers, travel providers and more, may have been targeted by the hackers.
Bloomberg cites unnamed people familiar with the investigation and reports that the cyber attacks on United Airlines were conducted in May and June this year.
James Lewis, a senior fellow in cybersecurity at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says that United Airlines is one of the biggest contractors with the U.S. government. The airline has a rich customer database that includes travel details of military personnel, officials and contractors.
International flights taken by these officials can be matched by Chinese hackers to trace them in the cities traveled. Such information is also critical for the personal security of government officials.
"You're suspicious of some guy; you happen to notice that he flew to Papua New Guinea on June 23 and now you can see that the Americans have flown there on June 22 or 23," said Lewis. "If you're China, you're looking for those things that will give you a better picture of what the other side is up to."
United Airlines has not yet confirmed any breach in security if the company's computer system was indeed compromised.
"These reports are based on pure speculation, and we can assure our customers that their personal information is secure," United Airlines told TechTarget. "We remain vigilant in protecting against unauthorized access and use top advisors and best practices on cybersecurity to maintain our effectiveness."
If the report is authentic, then hackers have access to the data of millions of passengers who travel with the airline.
Photo: Roderick Eime | Flickr