They say everything happens in threes. Wednesday proved that adage, as the New York Stock Exchange, United Airlines and The Wall Street Journal all suffered outages of crucial online systems.
The strange coincidence of episodes, two of which have been publicly attributed to internal errors and not hacking attacks, shows the extent to which we live at the mercy of online systems.
Trading on the stock exchange was suspended from about 11:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. in New York because of a computer glitch. United Airlines flights across the US were temporarily grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday morning because of a problem in the airline's computer network caused by a faulty router. And in the midst of it, the Journal's online homepage crashed and stayed out of commission for just under an hour for reasons the company has not yet determined.
If you were a banker trying to catch a United flight and get updates on the New York Stock Exchange from the Journal this morning, your best bet was probably to head to the nearest airport bar.
Jeff Williams, a software security specialist and the chief technology officer at Contrast Security, said that though two of the companies say they weren't hacked, it's actually not that easy to make such a determination right away. "Could an attacker have found a vulnerability (or multiple vulnerabilities) that would allow them to take down three major firms?" he wrote in an email. "Absolutely."
Trading did continue on the NYSE's competitor exchanges, and it's not the first time a stock market has suffered from technical problems. However, it was the first time in ten years that the NYSE shut down completely during what would otherwise be normal operating hours. The last time something like this happened was in 2005, when a glitch in the exchange's communications system shut it down four minutes before the closing bell.
The grounding of United flights is expected to cause delays going forward, and the company has put a note on its website offering waivers for missed flights.
CNET's Don Reisinger contributed to this report.