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Trojans Implicated in 154 Deaths

First published: 23rd August 2010

Malicious software on the airline's central computer may have been a contributing factor in the crash of Spanair flight number JK 5022 shortly after tackeoff on 20 August 2008, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais. Only 18 of the 172 passengers and crew on board survived.

The crash happened a day after the aircraft experienced two problems, and shortly after a failed take-off attempt. The airline's central computer recorded technical problems and should have raised an alarm after the multiple problems. A mechanic and an airport maintenance chief are also being investigated and may face manslaughter charges. The plane took off with flaps and slats retracted, which should have been discovered in pre-flight checks by the aircrew, and caused a warning in the cockpit.

The tragedy seems to involve a chain of failures, and prevention of any of them could have prevented the crash. An investigating committee should complete its report by December.

Updated: 01st September 2010

Technology writer Ed Bott has reported more facts about this tragedy that counter the claim that malware was a contributing factor. Under the headline, "Fact check: malware did not bring down a passenger jet" Mr. Bott criticises headlines, like the one on this article, that implicate the malware in the deaths. Critically, the the flight engineers were still entering their report of the final problem at the time of the crash, so it was impossible for the maintenance computer to have issued a warning, and, logically, malware on that computer could not have affected the situation. However, he does concede that the malware was one symptom that "the entire maintenance operation was lax and poorly run".

Thanks to security commentator Rob Rosenberger, for drawing my attention to Ed Bott's report in his newsletter. Mr. Rosenberger also comments, "Sadly, history tells us the cyber media as a whole won't bother to correct the record" - this newsletter has, at least. Allan Dyer

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