Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., has asked the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a joint review of the cyber vulnerabilities of all systems supporting national air travel, according to a Jan. 12 letter Rep. Torres sent to CISA Director Jen Easterly.

Rep. Torres’ letter came a day after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was forced to ground all flights nationwide when the agency’s Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system experienced an outage.

The FAA saw no evidence of a cyberattack for the NOTAM outage, and blamed the 7,000 delays and 1,000 flight cancelation disruption on a damaged database file.

“Even though the FAA’s NOTAM system likely broke down for reasons unrelated to a cyberattack, the sheer number of flight cancellations and delays gives us a glimpse of how a cyberattack could derail air travel in America,” Rep. Torres wrote on his social media.

The representative continued, “I am calling upon [the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)] and DOT to investigate the cyber vulnerabilities of all systems underlying air travel. The FAA’s system failure led to thousands of flight disruptions.”

“A 20th century air travel system is destined to fail in a world of 21st century cyber challenges,” Rep. Torres added.

The nearly two-hour air traffic stop that left tens of thousands of travelers stranded on Jan. 11 was caused by a corrupted file that affected both the primary and the backup NOTAM systems.

According to reports, components of the NOTAM system responsible for alerting pilots about flight safety conditions were installed in 1993, making them 30 years old.

Rep. Torres requested that CISA and DOT conduct a thorough review of air travel systems, like NOTAM, to understand the cyber risks these technologies might encounter.

“Since CISA is the operational lead for Federal cybersecurity and DHS is the co-Sector Risk Management Agency with DOT, through the TSA, it is incumbent on these two agencies to ascertain what policies can be put in place and what investments can be made to secure our air travel systems from threat actors who wish to do us harm,” Rep. Torres wrote.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.