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Still unclear why air traffic system went down but cybercrime center not ruling out cyberattack

Xave Gregorio – Philstar.com

January 12, 2023 | 8:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — Senate panels ended Thursday their first hearing into the New Year’s Day air traffic management system outage without finding a reason that the technical failure — which transportation officials attributed to a faulty circuit breaker — happened in the first place.

Pressed by senators on what caused the circuit breaker to fail, transportation officials were only able to say that they are still waiting for the forensic findings of the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center, an attached agency of the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

“You can’t say the reason why this happened and we still can’t determine how this really happened. How would we act on this if we don’t know the root cause?” Senate public services panel chair Grace Poe said in Filipino.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros echoed this saying: “The [Department of Transportation] and [Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines] need to tell not just the Senate but the public the full truth on what happened last January 1 because there can be no moving forward if we do not know what we are leaving behind in the past.”

CAAP Director General Manuel Antonio Tamayo again led officials in explaining what caused the outage, with him reiterating the same explanation he gave to the transportation panel of the House of Representatives during a briefing last Tuesday.

At the House briefing, Tamayo said the CICC said it is unlikely that the outage was due to a cyberattack, an assertion that the cybercrime center refuted.

CICC Executive Director Alexander Ramos told senators that this finding was still “not conclusive.” 

“We haven’t reached that level due to lack of tools because the focus of our assignment here is to help on the restoration of the equipment,” Ramos said, decrying the absence of equipment which he attributed to budget cuts.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian called out Tamayo for his “misleading” report to the Senate, noting that there has yet to be a formal investigation into whether the outage was caused by a cyberattack.

Tamayo also admitted that there are no CCTVs monitoring air traffic equipment, which Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri questioned.

“You may have qualified people to look at these facilities but you know it can also be negligence on their part. They go in there, they make a mistake on what they connect and you will never know because it is their word against yours because there is no CCTV footage,” Zubiri said.

Transport Undersecretary Roberto Lim also told senators that Thales, the manufacturer of the country’s air traffic management system, had been claiming over P980 million from the government due to delays to the implementation of the project.

This, Thales country representative Harry Nuske, has prevented the company from further engaging the government in additional deals, including on upgrading the software of the air traffic management system.




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