Bots on a plane? Bad bots cause unique cyber-security issues for airlines

News by Robert Abel

While bots are a common tool of cyber-criminals for carrying out DDoS attacks and mining cryptocurrencies, a recent report found they may also be indirectly increasing the price of your airline tickets.

While bots are a common tool of cyber-criminals for carrying out DDoS attacks and mining cryptocurrencies, a recent report found they may also be indirectly increasing the price of your airline tickets.

Distil Research Lab’s Threat report, "How Bots Affect Airlines," found the airline industry has unique cyber-security challenges when dealing with bad bots, which comprise 43.9 percent of traffic on airlines websites, mobile apps, and APIs, which is more than double the average bad bot traffic across all industries in which only make up an average of 21.8 percent.

One European airline saw a whopping 94.58 percent of its traffic from bad bots, according to the report which analysed 7.4 billion requests from 180 domains from 100 airlines internationally.

Cyber-criminals launch bots to compromise loyalty rewards programs, steal credentials, steal payment information, steal personal information, carry out credit card fraud, and to launch credential stuffing attacks.

When threat actors infiltrates loyalty programs they can potentially shake customer confidence to the point where they no longer use the airlines.

"Once a customer has been locked out of their account by a criminal changing their password, the airline has a customer service problem to solve," the report said. "The forensics to investigate what happened inside the account is time consuming and costly."

Researchers added that the costs of reimbursements for the damages are also a negative impact of these bad bots.

The only industry which had a worse bot problem was the gambling industry with an average of 53.08 percent of its traffic coming from bad bots.

These malicious bots are working around the clock in the airline industry as their activity appears consistent every day throughout the week except Friday when there is a peak in traffic. The majority of the traffic comes from the USA as it’s responsible for 25.58 percent of bad bot traffic worldwide, followed by Singapore in second place with 15.21 percent, and China in third with 11.51 percent.

Researchers also learned that of the nearly 30 percent of the domains they reviewed, bad bots encompassed more than half of all traffic with 48.87 of bad bots reportedly using Chrome as their users’ agent.

Not all bots are evil however, some of the bots are used by travel aggregators such as Kayak and other online travel agencies to scrape prices and flight information or even competitive Airlines looking to gather up-to-the-minute market intelligence but even these can cause hassles.

Some of these unauthorised (OTAs) however may use bots to scrape prices and flight information seeking to gather ‘free’ information from the airline rather than pay for any associated fees by entering into any commercial arrangement requiring a service level agreement, researchers said in the report.

To combat the bad bots, researchers recommend airlines block or CAPTCHA outdated user agents/browsers, block known hosting providers and proxy servers which host malicious activity, block all access points, investigate traffic spikes, monitor failed login attempts, and pay attention to public data breaches.

This article was originally published on SC Media US.

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