A plane crash that killed 154 people in 2008 might have been partly connected to the infection of an important ground safety system by malware, a Spanish newspaper has claimed.
The Spanair plane took off from Madrid to fly to the Canary Islands on 20 August 2008, but failed to clear the runway. Of the 172 passengers and aircrew on board, only 18 survived.
The precise cause of the crash remains contentious but was believed by investigators to relate to the MD-82 not having its flaps set to the correct position prior to takeoff. Given that investigators believe that the pilots twice failed to spot that the flaps were set in the incorrect position for take-off, a ground system used by the airline should have spotted the error and sounded the alarm.
According to the newspaper El Pais, on the day of the crash this system was not functioning due to unnamed infection by computer Trojans.
If the analysis is confirmed, it will be the first known example of malware being directly connected to fatalities. Equally, it could be pointed out that if a critical safety check system is inoperable human intervention should have been required to perform that function.
Reported malware infection of critical systems is still officially a rare event. In 2008, the International Space Station was hit by a computer worm that infected laptops onboard the orbiting mission after being brought on board by one of the Russian crew.