Was the FAA’s nationwide ground stop on flights last week the work of ransomware hackers?
By Cassie B. // Jan 19, 2023

When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) called for a full ground stop on all flights leaving the U.S. for a few hours last Wednesday due to a failure with the critical Notice To Air Missions (NOTAM) system, a damaged database file was cited as the problem. It sounds plausible enough; we increasingly rely on computer systems for everything in our daily lives, and occasionally things happen that remind us how easily it can all go wrong.

However, the story suddenly became a lot harder to accept when pretty much the same thing happened in Canada on the very same day the ground stop was issued. Our neighbors to the north have their own aviation authority, of course, and use their own software to route their planes. Their system outage did not ground flights or lead to delays there, and NAV Canada chalked it up to a computer hardware failure.

Both the FAA and NAV Canada said that the incidents were not the result of a cyberattack, but it’s hard to deny that the timing is highly questionable. NOTAM systems are impressively reliable, and outages are extremely rare. And yet, there were problems on both sides of the border within 24 hours of one another.

Interestingly, Philippine authorities were forced to stop flights into and out of Manila on New Year’s Day as a result of what was described as an air traffic control malfunction. Hundreds of flights were diverted, delayed or cancelled as a result. A power outage was blamed for the incident, with the country’s transportation secretary saying that the outdated facility needed to be upgraded and backups needed to be put in place.

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All of these incidents, taken together, have raised more than a few eyebrows. Could hackers have been getting into these systems and demanding ransom from the affected governments?

Why did Bitcoin prices rise so high after the ground stop?

That’s what Fox News' Tucker Carlson thinks, and he recently shared some compelling reasons on his show. One that is particularly hard to ignore is the fact that the price of Bitcoin started skyrocketing after the ground stop by the FAA. That is exactly what would happen if the American government suddenly had to buy a significant amount of Bitcoin – which is precisely the currency that most hackers demand payment in.

“Since the nationwide ground stop last Thursday, the price of Bitcoin has shot up about 20%. Is that a coincidence?” he asked.

The ground stop, as Carlson points out, is a pretty big deal. Not one plane was allowed to be in the skies over the U.S. while it was in effect, something that has not happened since the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Carlson also discussed how outlandish the idea was that all of the commercial air travel in the nation could be shut down because a contractor entered the wrong code somewhere. How did both the main system and the emergency backup system go down at once?

The idea of hackers being behind this isn’t so outrageous. Carlson noted: “But is everything fine, or is it possible that somebody is hacking into aviation systems and holding various governments around the world hostage until they pay a ransom? Well yes, it is entirely possible. In fact, for example, in the summer of 2020, UCSF medical school paid over a million dollars in bitcoin and they paid it in order to get access to their own computers, which had been frozen by hackers. They were held up for ransom.”

This is exactly the type of thing that could have happened in the U.S., Canada and the Philippines. And while it’s certainly understandable that the government wouldn’t want the public to know about it if this is what really happened, there is a good chance that we’re only going to see even more of this in the future if hackers can profit from taking down systems that are essential to the running of our country.

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