Trojan May Have Played Part in Spanish Plane Crash

A computer infected with a Trojan failed to trigger an alarm that could have kept an ill-fated flight on the ground in 2008, a report finds. The plane crashed in Madrid shortly after takeoff, killing 154 people.

A Trojan may have played a role in a 2008 plane crash in Madrid that claimed the lives of 154 people, according to a media report.

The Spanair flight was headed for the Canary Islands in August 2008 when it crashed just after takeoff at Madrid-Barajas Airport. Just 18 people survived the crash.

According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, an interim accident report (PDF) by Spain's CIAIAC (Comisi??n de Investigaci??n de Accidentes e Incidentes de Aviaci??n Civil) found the plane had taken off with its flaps and slats retracted, and that no audible takeoff warning system alerts were recorded by the cockpit voice recorder during the takeoff roll.

Citing an internal report from the airline, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that a computer used to monitor airplane systems was infected with malware that effectively prevented it from sounding an alarm that would have kept the plane grounded. The exact Trojan involved was not revealed.

The infected computer, located at the airline's office in Palma de Mallorca, is supposed to emit an alarm signal when three similar technical problems are found in the same device, El Pais reported. Though three problems were detected-two Aug. 19, the day before the crash, and a third Aug. 20-the incidents were not registered in the computer due to the Trojan, the newspaper said.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, wrote on his blog, "The final report from crash investigators is not due to be presented until December, and it's very probable that there will be found to be other contributing factors to what was a horrific accident beyond the malware infection by Trojan horses.

"However, next time someone tries to convince you that the people who write malware aren't really doing anyone any serious harm-remember this case."

A judge has ordered the airline to provide all of the computer's logs from the days before and after the crash.