Can malware cause an aviation disaster?

The answer is of course yes.
Let’s change the question: did a malware cause the Spanair 5022 crash? According to a recent article: (most probably) yes. An interesting article was suggested by a reader of the website. Here’s an exerpt (the full article can be read here:

Malware implicated in fatal Spanair plane crash
Computer monitoring system was infected with Trojan horse, authorities say

By Leslie Meredith
updated 8/20/2010 4:48:01 PM ET

Authorities investigating the 2008 crash of Spanair flight 5022 have discovered a central computer system used to monitor technical problems in the aircraft was infected with malware.

An internal report issued by the airline revealed the infected computer failed to detect three technical problems with the aircraft, which if detected, may have prevented the plane from taking off, according to reports in the Spanish newspaper, El Pais.

Flight 5022 crashed just after takeoff from Madrid-Barajas International Airport two years ago today, killing 154 and leaving only 18 survivors.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reported in a preliminary investigation that the plane had taken off with its flaps and slats retracted — and that no audible alarm had been heard to warn of this because the systems delivering power to the take-off warning system failed. Two earlier events had not been reported by the automated system.

The malware on the Spanair computer has been identified as a type of Trojan horse.

I’ve always underlined the aviation safety risks implied with Information Security. Here’s just a tragic example. The final report from crash investigators is not due to be presented until December. However, we can affirm since now that, even if malware was not the root cause of the Spanair 5022 crash (as the aircraft took off with flaps and slats retracted) at least it was a contributing factor to an aviation disaster.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.