Technology is part of our lives, and it’s great when it works! Terrible when it doesn’t!
In air travel, technology lets us see when a flight will arrive or take off, where the plane is, and even check-in and print our own boarding pass. It’s frustrating when a flight is canceled due to weather or a mechanical issue. Now, we have to deal with mass technological failures too.
In December, one of the most popular airlines was the victim of what is now referred to as a “meltdown” when over 16,700 flights (about half of its flights) were canceled between December 20 and 29 due to more than a dozen “technology glitches, outages, and meltdowns.” I’ve been in the cyber security arena for a while and am unfamiliar with those terms.
It seems that Southwest had not updated its computer systems. Estimates are that it cost them $800K or more. Sounds like a tough lesson in keeping your technology updated. I certainly hope they keep their planes more updated than that!
The CEO of Southwest Airlines, Bob Jordan, said that prior to the infamous December meltdown, Southwest was already planning a five-year modernization of its networks. Ahhh, but timing is everything, isn’t it?
With winter storms and increased holiday travel, the legacy system couldn’t keep up with the demands of the changes in schedules, flights, etc. In the aftermath, Southwest has been updating its IT systems and processes so that the airline’s systems work more efficiently and can handle the workload when the weather gets bad or the holidays are upon us.
That all sounds great. Even the COO, Andrew Watterson, said in mid-March, “I’m confident in our path forward and truly believe our best days are ahead.”
Famous last words. Because April 18 was not one of their best days. They couldn’t even make it to the summer travel season, let alone the holiday rush.
On Tuesday morning, Southwest requested that the FAA pause Southwest’s departures. The problem this time was with a third-party firewall that crashed. Whoops, not a good term when talking about airlines…let’s say the firewall stopped working. Because of this, some connections to operational data were not available.
I want to point out that the network should not have a single-point failure (i.e., if one thing breaks, the whole thing goes down).
However, I want to use this as an example of a few things.
One, if you are using legacy systems (read “old”), you must replace them immediately! Whether these are older computers, applications, software, etc. They may no longer be supported by their manufacturers/developers, which means vulnerabilities are not patched, nor are they able to handle the demands of newer environments or technologies.
Second, you cannot delay improvements when your system is outdated. You never know when that holiday rush, winter storm, once-in-a-century pandemic, or another event will happen that your system cannot sustain.
Third, not only do you need to update your IT networks, but you must also ensure your cyber security tools are kept updated as well (like your firewall).
Don’t misunderstand me; I love Southwest Airlines, and I would be terribly disappointed if they were to go out of business. I know Southwest flight attendants who are the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I would not want to see them out of a job. Plus, Southwest flights are just enjoyable. But even a big corporation with a focus on customer service must prioritize its IT and cybersecurity.
If this can happen to Southwest, it can happen to you.
Do you prioritize the safety and security of your organization? Allow Commonwealth Sentinel to be your partner in risk reduction and ensuring the well-being of all. Our comprehensive services range from software and hardware solutions to training and policy implementation. Contact us at (502) 320-9885 to learn more about how we can help you achieve peace of mind.