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A passenger is silhouetted as a United Airlines plane takes off at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on July 1, 2021.

A passenger is silhouetted as a United Airlines plane takes off at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on July 1, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar

Hackers shut down O’Hare, Midway airport websites

A widespread attack coordinated by pro-Russia hackers knocked the websites of Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports offline early Monday, a group claiming responsibility for the hack said.

Flychicago.com and other websites connected to O’Hare and Midway international airports were offline until about noon, according to a statement from the Chicago Department of Aviation.

No flights or other airport operations were affected, the department said. The city’s Information Security Office at the Department of Assets, Information and Services is attempting to determine the cause of the shutdown, the aviation department said.

Chicago wasn’t the only target. In all, the attack hit a dozen U.S. airports, including the LaGuardia Airport system in New York, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and Los Angeles International Airport.

The “denial of service attack” was coordinated by a pro-Russia hacker group that calls itself Killnet. The group published a list of targets on its Telegram channel Sunday night.

The attack was intended to create “confusion, chaos, and disruption,” said Sheldon H. Jacobson, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an expert on aviation security.

“If you’re going to Chicago O’Hare and then you hear about this you immediately ask the question, ‘Is my flight going to be affected?’” Jacobson said. “But in this particular case, there are just no effects. It is just the exterior cyber world that is being disrupted, which does not affect the infrastructure.”

The attacks did not appear to have affected actual operations. Still, by targeting highly visible airports, the hackers could create the impression of a larger threat, Jacobson said.

“They bring down the website, they cause problems and confusion, but in terms of the actual operations, safety and security of the airport, it has minimal, if any, impact,” Jacobson said. “And what they have now done is shown their cards. They now show what they are willing and capable of doing, and that in some sense makes it easier to harden the system.”

Jacobson said he suspects the attack was in retaliation for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.

Aviation department officials have provided no more information on the attacks.

Contributing: Associated Press

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