Worcester Air Traffic Communications System Hack

Event Year: 1997 Reliability: Confirmed
Country: United States
Industry Type: Transportation

On March 10, 1997, an unidentified juvenile computer hacker broke into a Bell Atlantic control system used for the air traffic communications at the Worcester, Massachusetts airport, causing a system crash that disabled the phone system at the airport for six hours.

The criminal charges contained in Federal Information allege that the computer hacker temporarily disabled Next Generation Digital Loop Carrier NGDLC systems operated by NYNEX (later purchased by Bell Atlantic Telephone Company) at the Worcester Airport and in the community of Rutland, Massachusetts. NGDLC systems are programmable remote controllers used to integrate voice and data communications originating on a large number of standard, copper-wire telephone lines for transmission over a single fiber-optic cable.

The Information alleges that the loop carrier systems operated by the telephone company were accessible from a personal computer’s modem. This accessibility was maintained so that telephone company technicians could change and repair the service provided to customers by these loop carrier systems quickly and efficiently from remote computers.

The hacker identified the telephone numbers of the modems connected to the loop carrier systems operated by the telephone company providing service to the Worcester Airport and the community of Rutland, Massachusetts. On March 10, 1997 he accessed and disabled both in sequence.


The crash of the NGDLC system knocked out phone service at the control tower, airport security, the airport fire department, the weather service, and carriers that use the airport. Also, the tower’s main radio transmitter and another transmitter that activates runway lights were shut down, as well as a printer that controllers use to monitor flight progress. The hacking also knocked out phone service to 600 homes in the nearby town of Rutland.