A group of China-linked hackers that has mowed through the databanks of major American health insurers and stolen personnel records of U.S. military and intelligence agencies has struck at the heart of the nation’s air-travel system, say people familiar with investigations of the attacks.
Sabre Corp., which processes reservations for hundreds of airlines and thousands of hotels, confirmed that its systems were breached recently, while American Airlines Group Inc., the world’s biggest carrier, said it is investigating whether hackers had entered its computers.
Both companies were hacked as part of the same wave of attacks that targeted insurer Anthem Inc. and the U.S. government’s personnel office, according to three people with knowledge of the cybersecurity probes. The investigators have tied those incursions to the same China-backed hackers, an assessment shared by U.S. officials, the people said.
The latest incidents, which haven’t previously been reported, are the broadest yet on the U.S. travel industry, emerging a week after security experts attributed an attack on United Airlines, the world’s second-largest carrier, to the same group.
The plundered information would add to a trove already believed to include personal and employment details from background checks on millions of government employees and contractors, as well as medical histories. A foreign government could use the data to build profiles of U.S. officials and contractors, establishing information that could be used to blackmail them into providing intelligence. A government could also track the travel of U.S. officials and workers to detect military or intelligence operations, or compare their movements with those of its own citizens.
Sabre, one of the largest clearinghouses for travel reservations, is a potentially rich target for state-sponsored hacks because of the company’s role as a central repository of what it says are records on more than a billion travelers per year across the globe.
American is investigating whether hackers moved from Sabre’s systems into its own computers, two of the people familiar with the examination said. The carrier shares some network infrastructure with Sabre, a onetime subsidiary that it spun off as a separate company in 2000. American and Sabre began contracting with outside experts to conduct the probe within the last month, said the people with knowledge of the inquiry. Read more