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Its Negative Impact

and why bot mitigation is a better alternative

Captcha Its Negative Impact

topics Covered

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Airline Industry Malicious Bot Attacks

An Increase In Malicious Activity Generally Coincides With An Increase In Travel Demand

Cybercriminal activity in the airline sector is anticipated to spike as the industry begins to recover from the pandemic. As bookings increase, hackers will be increasing their site crawling activities, looking for vulnerabilities and easy targets.

Recovering from attacks is time-consuming, resource draining and costly during normal times. With many travel organizations facing financial difficulties, cybersecurity neglect is bound to catch up with many of these organizations.

Price Scraping…A Double Edge Sword
Web scraper bots collect pricing and fare information. This activity is both beneficial and harmful to airlines.

On the one hand, airlines benefit from these scraper bots. Aggregation and booking sites employ these bots to automatically obtain pricing and fares from participating travel sites. Increased bookings from these aggregation sites represent a substantial revenue channel for many airlines. With revenue based upon the aggregation site’s sales performance, airlines can defray direct sales costs.

On the other hand, competitors also utilize web crawler bots to obtain price comparison data. This makes it easy for rivals to steal customers by offering lower price alternatives, undercutting special offers and garnering auxiliary sales that they would not otherwise make .

Availability Scraping…Similar To Price Scraping But With Additional Problems
No only do web scraper bots collect pricing and fare information, they also collect availability information. This activity is both beneficial and harmful to airlines.

The Benefits. Web scraper bots provide authorized aggregation and booking sites the ability to automatically obtain availability information from participating travel sites. Many airlines rely upon these sites for bookings.

The Threats. Competitors and hackers use web crawler bots to not only obtain availability information, but also to damage an airline’s brand reputation and customer experience by holding reservations, reducing availability and slowing the booking reservation engine.

How Malicious Bot Attacks Work

Hackers will deploy generalized bots, which perform a scan of a website and online infrastructure looking for vulnerabilities they can penetrate. On the surface, these “crawler bots” appear harmless, behaving in a similar manner Googlebots. They simply crawl a site, page by page reviewing its content. This first stage, reconnaissance work, enables cybercriminals to automate their penetration testing in bulk. The resulting vulnerabilities are categorized and targeted through custom bots designed to penetrate the specific vulnerabilities.

Bot Attacks Are Automated

Attackers use generalized bots to crawl websites in bulk. They simply load domain names into their crawl scripts. These scripts automatically identify and catalog site vulnerabilities. The bots move on from sites they cannot readily penetrate, those without easily identifiable vulnerabilities. This allows hackers to focus their attention on the easier targets.

Login And Access Targeting

Cybercriminals don't initially target specific sites. For airline attacks, hackers may have lists of hundreds of thousands or even millions of passenger details. They'll target airline sites' reservation pages and payment gateways in an attempt to gain access to passenger accounts and to test which records in their database are valid.

Airline Industry Malicious Bot Threats

Airlines are under constant threat from malicious activity including…

Account Takeover Attempts

A form of ID theft, ATO's access a site's accounts by credential stuffing in an attempt to obtain PII data and steal loyalty program data such as reward points and air miles. ATO's activity includes:
Password Re-use
using the compromised password from one site on another site
Credential Stuffing
bulk attempts to gain access to user accounts)
that interferes with user sessions
Remote Access
gaining control of a user's device
Induced Payments
users are tricked into initiating a fraudulent payment
When successful, ATO's are very costly for a healthcare organization to resolve.

Credential Stuffing

Stolen credentials, linking username and password combinations, from a previous data breach are loaded into a credential stuffing tool and deployed against a specific travel website to see which combinations work. Even with minimal success, the hackers manage to take over a large number of accounts.

Email Phishing Attacks

Bots are used to detect email addresses contained on a site's webpage copy. Next, the bots will attempt to determine the organization's email format by examining the email records. For example: If successful, the bots then gather the names of the organization's employees from the about us, contact us and staff pages. From there it's easy to automatically compile a directory of the organization's employees and their emails. These emails are bulk validated through readily available, inexpensive third-party services before the emails sent. This simple, automated process allows cybercriminals to launch successful phishing attacks.

Content Scraping

Airline sites are full of products, services, incentives, advertisement, downloadable content, warnings, tips, resources and advice. Bad bots can scrape all of this content for malicious use. Attackers can steal a site's information and sensitive data. Not only are these bad bots stealing proprietary data, the activity sucks up the site's bandwidth. This, in turn, slows down the site's performance, which can cause downtime and additional overhead if not blocked.
Content scraping bots often create fake registrations and form fills. These need to often be purged manually, increasing customer support and administrative costs.

Aggressive Site Scraping

When malicious bots are aggressively deployed against a travel site, the site's performance is impacted, as pages take longer to load. As a result the customer experience is compromised, damaging the site's brand reputation and lost revenue, as well as negatively impacting the site's SEO rankings.

Ticket Spinning

This practice involves a hacker holding tickets for a period of time to see if they can resell them for higher margin.This prevents real customers from being able to purchase the same tickets. This tactic is used as a type of denial of service attack as well.

Passenger Portal Attacks

Passenger portals provide a communication ecosystem, connecting passengers and their Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to the travel company's network. Inadequate defenses against malicious bot activity can flood the portal with authorization attempts which can overload it, leading to declined access, compromised records, posting inaccurate transactional information, record editing or record deletion.

Smaller Airlines.
Smaller airlines are particularly susceptible to data loss as a result of malicious attacks because they use cloud-based services with remote back-up systems to protect from accidental or intentional deletion.

Compromised Passwords.
Compromised passwords increase the threat of sensitive healthcare data theft. The threat from cybercriminals who are actively looking to exploit travel data is a significant concern.

Payment Gateway Attacks

Payment gateways are the conduit to the merchant account provider or bank. They're designed to make the acceptance of credit cards, debit cards and alternative forms of payment easy for the travel site to accept. Inadequate defenses against malicious bot activity can flood the payment gateway with authorization attempts which can overload the gateway, leading to declined transactions, lost revenue, disputes, cancellations and damage the customer relationship. In extenuating circumstances, the gateway provider, processor or bank can suspend or even terminate the organization's accounts.

Look-To-Book Skewing

Look-To-Book ratios measure the number of people visiting a website compared to those who make a purchase. Scraper bots increase the number of web requests which negatively impacts this ratio.

Denial Of Inventory Attacks

DOI attacks are most commonly targeted towards travel industry. An holds back an item from inventory (tickets, reservations, bookings, etc) but they're not going to actually complete the purchase.
Human Impersonation.
In a DOI attack, the bot pretends to be a customer, creating a reservation, but rather than paying for it, the transaction is on hold, for up to 20 minutes typically, allowing for time for the perceived customer to complete payment. The hacker uses this 20 minute hold period to try and resell that booking by marking up the price on another site
Simultaneous Bot Attacks.
By utilizing multiple bots simultaneously, the hacker increases chances for success, by account for reservations they weren't able to resell within the holding period.
Bots React Faster Than Humans.
These DOI attacks get even worse. Since the bots react faster than any human can react, the hacker is able restart the whole process again.

Airline DOI

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