Boeing Rapidly Plays Down "Hysteria" After WannaCry Ransomware Attack

Earlier today, Boeing was hit by the WannaCry computer ransomware virus, prompting a memo from the company’s chief engineer, Mike VanderWel, calling for "all hands on deck," which sparked widespread concerns:

It is metastasizing rapidly out of North Charleston and I just heard 777 (automated spar assembly tools) may have gone down,” VanderWel wrote,

...adding his concern that the virus could hit equipment used in functional tests of airplanes ready to roll out and potentially “spread to airplane software.”

His concerns were likely well intentioned since, as a reminder, in May of last year, in what was described as one of the "worst-ever recorded attacks of its kind," the WannaCry ransomware virus spread across the globe at an alarming rate, seizing control of private networks, locking users out of their computers until they pay a fee, sometimes in cryptocurrency, or other type of ransom.

As a reminder, those pesky "Russian hackers," the same ones that lay relatively dormant for years then suddenly emerged from hibernation in 2016 to hack the DNC, John Podesta and the entire 2016 U.S. presidential election, were initially considered to be the most likely culprits for the WannaCry virus. But after a short time, Russians and North Koreans were dismissed as hackers centered on Chinese-speaking individuals as responsible.

Given VanderWel's initial reaction, the attack triggered widespread alarm within the company.

VanderWel’s message said the attack required “a battery-like response,” a reference to the 787 in-flight battery fires in 2013 that grounded the world’s fleet of Dreamliners and led to an extraordinary three-month-long engineering effort to find a fix.

“We are on a call with just about every VP in Boeing,” VanderWel’s memo said.

But, desperate to quell the initial concerns, as The Seattle Times reports, by late Wednesday afternoon however, Boeing issued a statement dialing back those fears.

“Our cybersecurity operations center detected a limited intrusion of malware that affected a small number of systems,” Boeing said.

“Remediations were applied and this is not a production and delivery issue.”

In other words, 'nothing to see here, move along as Linda Mills, a spokeswoman at Boeing’s commercial airplane division, said some reports on the attack “are overstated and inaccurate."

Finally, The Seattle Times  pointed out that Mitchell Edwards, a Dallas, Texas-based cyberthreat intelligence analyst, said that although a so-called “kill switch” fix for the WannaCry virus was quickly developed, other hackers were also quick to produce WannaCry variants that could defeat the fix. He said the virus used to attack Boeing was unlikely to be the original WannaCry virus but an updated version.

Once the news broke, some on social media raised the “nightmare scenario” of the virus infecting an airplane’s control software and possibly triggering a ransomware demand while in the air.

Edwards dismissed this as “hysteria.”

“The plane would have to have been connected to an infected system.,” he said.

“The chances are pretty minimal.”

Of course, we will not hold our breath waiting for Rep. Adam Schiff to demand a prob into this 'potentially terrifying' cyberattack, likely suggesting that The Russians did it.

However, given that it was Chinese individuals believed to be responsible last time and Washington is currently at (trade) war with Beijing, the timing of the cyberattack on one of America's biggest exporters is intriguing.