Technology disruption causes headaches for US businesses

The USA's biggest airline, its oldest stock exchange and its most prominent business newspaper all suffered technology glitches that disrupted their service for large parts of Wednesday this week.

Government officials said that it did not appear that the incidents were related or the result of sabotage, contrary to the jokes and conspiracy theories that circulated on Facebook and Twitter.

“In my business, you don’t love coincidences,” James Comey, FBI director, told Congress. “But it does appear that there is not a cyber-intrusion involved.”

The 223-year-old New York Stock Exchange was down for nearly four hours on Wednesday, bringing one of the world’s busiest trading floors to a standstill in the biggest outage to hit a US financial market for nearly two years. The NYSE said the outage was due to an internal technical issue and not the result of a cyber-attack.

“It's not a good day and I don't feel good for our customers who have to deal with the fallout,” NYSE President Thomas Farley told CNBC during the halt.

Elsewhere, a router malfunction in United Airlines' computer system grounded 4,900 flights worldwide for almost two hours, causing major disruptions. The company said the issue was caused by a “network connectivity issue” leading to 800 flight delays and 60 cancellations.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal’s website,, had “technical difficulties” that sent readers to a temporary site while the paper worked to fix the glitch.

“The problem is humans can't keep up with all the technology they have created,” said Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner. “It's becoming unmanageable by the human brain. Our best hope may be that computers eventually will become smart enough to maintain themselves.”

It took the NYSE almost four hours to resume trading. “I think everyone needs to assume technology is going to go down sometimes, but you should be resilient enough to quickly recover from the outage within a half hour, if not a few minutes,” Litan said.

For United Airlines, it was the second major technical issue in two months. On June 2, the airline had to halt all take-offs in the US because of what it described as "computer automation issues".

The US Department of Homeland Security said there were no signs that the problems at NYSE and United Airlines stemmed from “malicious activity”. The SEC said on Wednesday that it was closely monitoring the situation at NYSE. The White House said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the matter.

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