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Swissport ransomware attack leads to flight delays

The attack is now 'under control' but raises questions around critical European businesses being targeted in recent weeks

Aviation services company Swissport announced it was the victim of a ransomware attack on Friday, with some flights forced into delays and other operations disrupted. 

Neither the ransomware operator nor the type of ransomware used against the company is currently known, but the company reacted quickly to contain the attack, despite the disruption it caused.

"A part of Swissport’s IT infrastructure was subject to a ransomware attack," the company announced via Twitter on Friday. "The attack has been largely contained, and we are working actively to fully resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Swissport regrets any impact the incident has had on our service delivery."

At the time, its support website returned an error and was inaccessible, but a day later the company assured that the situation was under control and that affected systems were taken offline waiting to be restored from backups.

"IT security incident at Swissport contained. Affected infrastructure swiftly taken offline," it said on Saturday. "Manual workarounds or fallback systems secured operation at all times. Full system clean-up and restoration now underway. We apologise for any inconvenience."

"Due to system problems at our airport partner Swissport, 22 flights were delayed by 3 to 20 minutes yesterday," said a spokeswoman for Zurich Airport to Der Spiegel. Swissport told the publication that it was able to continue to provide ground services without full IT system access, though delays were inevitable.

Swissport provides ground services to airports such as passenger services, ramp and air cargo handling, fuelling, and executive hospitality services. In 2021, the company said it provided services to 97 million airline passengers and handled around 5 million tonnes of air freight at more than 100 cargo warehouses worldwide.

The hack follows a number of widely reported cyber attacks on critical infrastructure across Europe last week, including attacks on oil facilities in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, the BBC reported.

Experts speaking at the time said it was not currently clear if the attacks were linked or coordinated, but some experts have speculated the attacks may be linked to current political tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the latter of which has received widespread and prominent support from European and other western powers as a potential war looms.

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"This is the third attack in a week on European critical infrastructure providers," said Andy Norton, European cyber risk officer at Armis to IT Pro. "The attacks have focussed on the ancillary IT services that surround the production system or service.

"The NIS legislation in Europe requires critical infrastructure providers to attain a certain level of operational resilience," he added. "Whether the surge in attacks is related to current geo-political events is unknown. However, providers of critical services should immediately review the adequacy of their risk assessments from cyber threat with emphasis on the criticality of the ancillary IT systems that have increased connectivity and the potential to impact the OT and ICS production and service delivery."

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