Bristol Airport deliberately yanked its flight screens offline for two days over the weekend in response to a cyberattack.
Techies took down computer-based flight information systems at the airport in provincial England between Friday morning and the wee hours of Sunday morning.
The electronic screens were replaced by whiteboards and extra staff were drafted in to handle the resulting confusion, partly alleviated by an increase in announcements over the speaker system. Flights remained unaffected throughout but passengers were advised to check in earlier than normal to accommodate any delays.
We are currently experiencing technical problems with our flight information screens. Flights are unaffected and details of check-in desks, boarding gates, and arrival/departure times will be made over the public address system. Additional staff are on hand to assist passengers— Bristol Airport (@BristolAirport) September 14, 2018
By Sunday, the Bristol airport had restored flight information screens in the arrival and departure areas while techies worked to bring back site-wide access.
Flight info screens were reportedly taken offline in order to contain a "ransomware-style" attack. Rather than paying crooks to restore data, the airport rebuilt affected systems before service was restored. The airport described the hack as opportunistic rather than targeted. In a statement, the airport stressed that key systems were not affected.
Part of Bristol Airport’s administrative systems were subjected to an on-line criminal attempt. A number of processes, including the application providing data for flight information screens in the terminal were taken off line purely as a precautionary measure, while the problem was contained and to avoid any further impact. Established contingency plans were implemented to keep passengers informed about flight information. Flight operations remained unaffected.
Bristol Airport always remains vigilant against all types of hostile on-line activity. As with every event of any type we will monitor and keep under review how to avoid it re-occurring. However, it is important to recognise that security measures already in place ensured minimum disruption to passenger journeys.
Bristol is the UK’s ninth largest airport, handling more than 8.23 million passengers a year. The airport specialises in budget carriers (Ryanair, easyJet) and charter flights, which between them run direct flights to scores of destinations in 34 countries.
Ransomware has been a problem for both businesses and consumers, particularly over the last three or four years. Several hospitals and municipal authorities have fallen victim to attacks over that time. The transportation sector has not been immune. For example, both Odessa airport and the Kiev metro in the Ukraine, were blighted by the BadRabbit ransomware last October. ®
* To be fair, Bristol, as the ninth busiest airport in the UK, deals with a little more than 8 million passengers (PDF, Civil Aviation Authority 2017 figures) a year as opposed to Heathrow's 75 million.