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Hack dismissed as the cause of UK e-gates airport failure

The UK’s Home Office said that its vaunted e-gates system failed because of a bug and not a state-sponsored cyberattack. 

By Greg Noone

The UK’s e-gates border control system likely failed because of a software malfunction and not a cyberattack, the Home Office has said. The statement follows a system outage last night that forced border officials to process incomers manually, leaving thousands of travellers queuing for hours. 

The problem has now been resolved, with both London Stansted Airport and Heathrow Airport stating that their e-gate systems would be working normally this morning. “At no point was border security compromised and there is no indication of malicious cyber activity,” said the Home Office, in a statement provided to Reuters

E-gates at Heathrow Airport.
Travellers queueing up to use e-gates at Heathrow Airport. Collectively run by the UK’s Border Force, the system failed last night in multiple British airports. (Photo by Shutterstock)

E-gates intended to speed up, not slow, passenger processing

E-gates use facial recognition cameras to recognise whether a traveller’s face matches the one contained in their passport, which is scanned simultaneously by the user. All e-gates are under the supervision of the UK Border Force, a part of the Home Office. Credited with reducing queue times for individuals entering the UK with biometric passports, there are now 270 such gates in 15 airports and railway stations. 

Yesterday’s outage began at 19:50 BST and lasted approximately four hours. Large queues formed quickly at dozens of UK airports, as Border Force officials scrambled to process travellers using manual checks. “All the e-gates were totally blank and there as just a lot of chaotic scenes,” one traveller told BBC News, who added that they were processed after 90 minutes. Others suspected the outage impacted more than the automated gates, complaining that manual checks were also disrupted. Long queues also formed at Belfast International Airport, which does not run e-gates. 

Long history of outages

This is not the first time that e-gates have failed. Just last week, what the Border Force described as a “technical issue” with the installations led to similar scenes of irate, queuing travellers at multiple UK airports. Other such incidents occurred in May 2023 and September 2021. Problems with e-gates do not seem to be confined to UK airports, either. At Lisbon Airport in Portugal, new e-gates designed to accommodate British travellers more expediently after Brexit failed. 

“There must have been about a thousand people in that queue and it took an hour for my colleague to get through the e-gate,” one traveller told Travel Gossip at the time. “There was just one flight from the UK at the time, but people had to queue up with arrivals on flights from all over the world.”

Read more: The controversial rise of biometrics for migrants

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