Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Pilots Say Union Website Was Hijacked

MANHATTAN (CN) - Delta Pilots Association claims in court that a hacker hijacked its website and redirected viewers to a rival union's web page, to stop it from getting more members.

Delta Pilots Association sued John Doe in Federal Court, in a three-count complaint under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Tim Caplinger, a Delta pilot who lives in Florida, founded the Delta Pilots Association in May 2010 to better represent pilots working for Delta, according to the lawsuit.

Delta Air Lines operates more than 5,000 flights a day and employs nearly 12,000 commercial pilots.

Delta pilots had been represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), a union with 50,000 pilot-members in the United States and Canada.

From 2010 to 2013, the Delta Pilots Association got more than half of the Delta pilots to apply for membership in the new union, according to the lawsuit.

Delta Pilots Association says it uses its website for most of its business, including raising donations and campaigning to get more members.

The website, hosted by nonparty SquareSpace in New York, has publicly accessible pages and private pages that require members to log in.

"Starting on or about Nov. 8, 2013, and continuing thereafter, the integrity of DPA's website was dramatically and visibly disrupted when it was 'hacked' into," the complaint states.

"As a direct and immediate consequence of this attack, DPA's website ceased to function as intended and web pages containing data and information in the public portion of the web site were made inaccessible.

"Further, the ability of DPA's website to accept monetary donations from members and/or supporters ceased to function properly when links to a secure third-party credit card web site were severed."

The union says its website could no longer display video messages and important updates, and that visitors were redirected to other website the union does not own.

"In the early stages of the attack, viewers attempting to access DPA's website were involuntarily redirected to a web page that falsely claimed DPA had abandoned its card collection campaign and now urged support for ALPA ('work together')," the complaint states. "This page also contained a link to an ALPA web site.

"In the later stages of the attack viewers were redirected to yet another website, 'deltapilot.org,' which mimicked DPA's website, effectively a malicious 'clone' of it.

"Upon information and belief, the initial web page and the clone site were calculated or intended to dissuade any further Delta pilots from signing cards in DPA's campaign or to otherwise abandon DPA, or its campaign, by knowingly and intentionally making false statements of material fact about DPA and its campaign." (Parentheses in complaint).

The Air Line Pilots Association is not a party to the lawsuit.

Delta Pilots Association claims the hacker destroyed data, files and programs and planted malware that may attack its website again.

"To date, plaintiff has not been successful in removing all of the malicious commands or code and consequently DPA's website remains potentially vulnerable to renewed 'backdoor' attacks by defendant Doe presently and in the future," the lawsuit states.

Delta Pilots Association claims that after it announced it would sue, the hacker called its Interim President, Tim Caplinger, on Nov. 15 and tried to negotiate his way out of the lawsuit.

It claims it lost donations and spent thousands of dollars to determine the damage and restore its website.

The union seeks an injunction and compensatory damages for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

It is represented by Stanley Silverstone with Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen, of White Plains.

On Thursday, pilots' union attorney Lee Seham told Courthouse News in a statement: "All we are seeking is a fair and level playing field. We simply desire the opportunity to allow Delta pilots to decide their own fate on a democratic basis, free of criminality. But we do insist on this."

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