26 August 2019
The recent “technical glitch” at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) should serve as a wake-up call for stakeholders, especially airport operators to have precautionary measures in place to ensure such incidents do no recur.
Cybersecurity expert Lieutenant-Colonel Ahmad Ghazali Abu Hassan said as the focal point of the country’s tourism industry, the country’s main airport should have had a contingency plan in place.
“Even though the glitch was not the work of hackers, it should serve as a wake-up call because it says a lot about our airport efficiency.
“We can’t rely on computer systems without having a back-up system and a contingency plan to prepare for such an eventuality,” he told the New Straits Times (NST).
Citing the recent chaos at the Hong Kong International Airport that saw hundreds of passengers stranded due to a protest, Ghazali said disruption at Malaysia’s main airport would cast a bad light on the nation.
“It’s simple. When such a thing happens, people will start telling others ‘don’t travel or transit to KLIA’.
“What will happen to our tourism industry then?
“We have the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 coming up and this would create a negative image of us.”
The anti-government protest in Hong Kong saw about 180 flights cancelled when protesters swarmed the arrival hall and departure areas at one of the world’s busiest airports.
The KLIA and klia2 network service disruption was first detected last Wednesday and speculation was rife it was a cyberattack, a suggestion that was dismissed by the National Cyber Security Agency (NACSA).
However, Ghazali, who is a lecturer at the National Defence University, said every country in the world was exposed to such threats.
“What’s important is for us to have a plan to stop the same incident from recurring because there are hackers everywhere in this world.
“While some of them have motives, others simply like doing it to challenge themselves.
“And since they are Internet savvy, hacking into an airport system is an easy task.
“Look at what happened to Estonia in 2007. They lost hundreds of millions of dollars in just a few days.”
In 2007, following a disputed relocation of the Soviet-era Bronze Soldier monument, Estonia endured a series of systematic cyberattacks that has been acknowledged as the world’s first cyberwar.
The political dispute sparked civil protests that led to the official websites of the Estonian Parliament, ministries, banks and newspapers going offline.
The incident served as a wake-up call for the small Baltic nation that was a digitally-advanced society at the time, which led to Estonia adopting a cybersecurity strategy by setting up small databases instead of having one big government database.
“We should have learnt from others and have a back-up system in place, instead of waiting for something to happen first.”
KLIA was officially opened in 1998 and it was said that the airport’s system and equipment had not been upgraded since its opening.
However, a network security expert rubbished the claim, saying that it was preposterous to say that the network hardware equipment had not been upgraded, especially since the disruption also involved klia2, which became fully operational 16 years later.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the expert said this was because such equipment, which served as the backbone of the Local Area Network and public Wide Area Network, was “required to be upgraded in meeting the demand of today’s system”.
The NST, on Saturday, reported that the system disruption could be due to a cyberattack.
Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), in an immediate response, denied such a claim, describing it as “totally untrue”.
NACSA, an agency under the National Security Council, said preliminary findings by MAHB indicated that the disruption was due to network equipment failure and it would continue to monitor and conduct investigations with related agencies.
Veteran journalist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin called on the MAHB top management to take responsibility for the system failure at both terminals.
He said the incident could put MAHB’s monopoly of the nation’s airport industry on a rocky road.
“There are bound to be challenges to its hegemony. With 39 airports in the country under its belt, MAHB could have been fed (or bitten) more that it could chew,” he wrote on his blog in his personal capacity at kadirjasin.blogspot.com.
He challenged those who think they can do a better job than MAHB to “put in their bids to make a commercial success out of any of the money-losing (albeit subsidised) airports in the country”.
The disruption, which began on Wednesday night, affected airport systems, including the flight information display system, check-in counters, baggage handling systems and WiFi connection.
The situation worsened as almost two dozen flights were delayed the following day.
Nearly 1,000 staff members were immediately deployed to assist passengers and airlines.
Checks by the NST on Saturday, however, found that local and foreign passengers were satisfied with their check-in process.
Despite being warned of the disruption, passengers said their flights were either still on time or delayed for about an hour.