United Airlines Breach Linked to Chinese-Origin Hackers Behind OPM Cyber Attack

United Airlines
United Airlines / Wikimedia Commons

A previously unreported breach of United Airlines computer systems has been linked to the Chinese-origin hackers behind the massive cyber attack on the Office of Personnel Management that compromised the personal data of 22.1 million Americans.

Bloomberg Business reported that United noticed an invasion of its computer systems between May and early June, according to individuals familiar with the investigation, three of whom alleged that investigators have connected the breach to the cyber attacks on OPM and health insurer Anthem Inc.

While the airline is still working to pinpoint exactly what data was stolen, hackers likely got ahold of the airline’s manifests, which contain information on passengers, origins and destinations of United flights. The hackers also may have lifted information regarding United mergers and acquisitions.

Taken with information stolen from OPM, the stolen United data could theoretically allow hackers to track the movements of U.S. government and military officials, as United is one of the biggest airline contractors with the government.

U.S. officials believe that the China-based hacking group has connections to the Chinese government.

According to an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month, the cyber attacks on OPM networks are believed to be part of a larger-scale operation aimed to steal information for intelligence or military reasons.

Security experts contend that the United Airlines breach is yet more evidence that China is creating a database of personal information about Americans.

In addition to the security breach, United has also endured two separate computer glitches over the past two months, one of which occurred July 8, the day before OPM acknowledged the number of Americans affected by the massive data breach. The same day also saw trading halt on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange amid a technical issue.

The July glitch, which forced the airline to ground all domestic and international flights for over an hour, has been deemed unrelated to the computer breach, according to individuals close to the investigation. The June 2 glitch that halted domestic takeoffs, however, may have been connected.

The commander of U.S. Cyber Command Adm. Mike Rogers said Monday that the OPM hack is indicative of a new trend toward using Big Data analytics to carry out cyber attacks.

Over the weekend, the Pentagon took the unclassified email network used by hundreds of its military and civilian personnel offline, citing suspicious activity.

Meanwhile, President Obama has been thanking China for its role in finalizing the Iran nuclear arms deal.