Homeland Security

Software bug caused CBP airport system outage

Long lines at Miami International Airport during a TECS outage in 2017 

Miami International Airport passengers lined up to await processing during a 2017 CBP outage.

The nationwide outage on Aug. 16 of Customs and Border computer systems that processed international travelers at airports across the U.S. was caused by a software bug that hit in the wake of a system update, the agency said.

The outage, which hit airports from New York's John F. Kennedy International, O'Hare International in Chicago and Washington D.C.'s Dulles International and others from coast-to-coast resulted in long lines for passengers at the facilities on a busy summer Friday.

In a statement to FCW on Aug. 19, a CBP spokesperson said the systems it uses to process international travelers "experienced a temporary outage that resulted in an impact to passenger processing at CBP ports of entry nationwide."

The outage resulted in long lines, but its personnel still had access to security databases for passenger screening. The agency, said the spokesperson, ruled out a cybersecurity threat or incident as a cause.

In its initial troubleshooting to determine what caused the outage, CBP said it was potentially a problem with application connection failures in some of its databases.

The agency had to sequentially restart "multiple CBP application servers" to restore service after about two and a half hours, the spokesperson said.

A four-hour outage of the CBP's IT system in January 2017 was also linked to a failed technology upgrade, according to an oversight report published in November 2017. In that outage, CBP had to route data requests from the modernized TECS system to the legacy TECS mainframe.

In their report, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General identified multiple system weaknesses including "inadequate CBP software capacity testing" and "deficient software maintenance" and "inadequate business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities to minimize the impact of system failures on the traveling public."

The report concluded that CBP "lacks a means to minimize the possibility and impact of similar system outages in the future."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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