The risk of any breach is that personally identifiable information ends up in the wrong hands, which could lead to identity theft or other crimes. In the case of the recent U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and Anthem health insurance breaches, there could well be another risk, that of a nation-state attempting to spy on or gain some advantage over the United.
A Bloomberg report published today alleges that United Airlines was recently breached by a group of hackers that are also tied to the OPM and Anthem breaches. United Airlines has not publicly confirmed or denied the report at this time.
The OPM breach affects 25.7 million Americans, while the Anthem breach exposed 80 million Americans' information. China has been implicated as the alleged attacker in both incidents.
United Airlines has been in the news multiple times in recent months concerning potential security incidents. In early July, United attributed a two-hour failure the airline experienced to a network connectivity issue. United Airlines was also the target of a security researcher that publicly tweeted about in-flight security in April; he claimed he could control the aircraft. There is no indication at this time that either incident is in any way related to the breach alleged by the Bloomberg report.
The report does allege that China-linked hackers are somehow involved as part of a larger effort to collect information on Americans employed by the U.S. government.
Multiple U.S. government agencies have publicly reported breaches in recent months. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that it was the victim of a breach, though no confidential information was stolen.
The U.S. Post Office admitted that it was breached in November 2014. In October 2014, the White House email system was hacked, though the latest reports in that incident have alleged that Russia, and not China, was behind the incident.
The fact that United might have been attacked by the same group of hackers that hit OPM and Anthem is not surprising to Paul Kurtz, CEO of TruSTAR Technologies and a former White House cyber-security advisor.
"We know that adversaries typically use a common command-and-control infrastructure to attack multiple companies across many sectors of the economy," Kurtz told eWEEK. "Given what we've seen, it's not too shocking to learn about other breaches involving the same adversaries."
What's also not surprising to Kurtz is the apparent lack of information sharing, which Kurtz said is deja vu all over again regarding the U.S. government's failure to effectively share information—except this time, it includes cyber-infrastructure, not physical attacks against infrastructure or people.
"In the case of 9/11, U.S. government agencies were not sharing critical data, which left us exposed to the plot by Al Qaeda against the U.S," Kurtz said. "In this case, we have an adversary who is plotting attacks against multiple infrastructures, and we're not sharing data regarding these incidents."
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.