February 20, 2018
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Posted March 29, 2017
Ski buffs and sun worshipers aren’t the only ones looking for online steals from popular travel brands these days. According to the ThreatMetrix Q4 2016 Cybercrime Report: Travel and Entertainment Industry Deep Drive, a growing number of fraudsters are also looking for their own kind of “steals.” Everything from payment fraud, loyalty scams, bot attacks, ransomware, and even fake reviews meant to damage brand equity are all on the rise for airlines, hotels, rental properties and others.
Payment fraud has always been an issue for the travel industry. A full 50 percent of travel firms claim that fraudulent purchases and stolen credit card information are their biggest challenges, according to TravelDailyNews. For transportation and hospitality brands, it can be even worse.
InterContinental Hotels recently revealed a credit card breach at least a dozen of its properties. Kimpton, Hilton, Starwood and others have all been hit during the past year and a half, while Trump Hotels and White Lodging have been targeted more than once.
But, in 2017, the travel industry will likely face new dynamics that will make it a prime target of organized and networked cybercriminals.
For starters, the industry is expected to outperform the global economy during the next decade, with an annual growth rate of 4 percent per year. Increased competition and expanding markets will get more people to more places than ever before.
Then there’s the surge in stolen credentials and identity data available on the dark web. Since 2013, more than 6 billion identities have been stolen through data breaches. User names and passwords for loyalty points, airline miles and reservations systems are also readily available to hackers.
Indeed, while payment transactions are still considered the most lucrative for cyber thieves, fraudulent login transactions are up significantly in the past year as fraudsters try to infiltrate trusted user accounts.
Once compromised, crooks can make fraudulent purchases, book travel, manipulate listing information, create fake (and damaging) reviews, or change account information to divert payouts from loyalty points to their own bank accounts.
Some of these items can represent significant exposure to these organizations’ balance sheets. The monetary value of loyalty programs alone would make some airlines and hotel chains equivalent to a large global bank.
But the damaged reputations, especially to high-end brands, could be much more costly. And the avenues for attack are proliferating.
Postcards from the Edge
The trends and findings in the report include:
Broadening the Bullseye: Each year, the world gets evermore connected, with new apps and tools for language translation, trip mapping, photo sharing, traveler reviews and more. Factor in the rising number of platforms for restaurant reservations, tours, and excursions from established and emerging providers, and it’s clear the total universe of targets in this sector is growing rapidly.
Bots Without Borders: While attacks were down last quarter relative to their peak during the summer travel season, they’re up overall for the past year, as botnet developers seek to buy bulk tickets, create fake listings, steal credentials and siphon loyalty points. Beyond the attacks themselves, these bots also create ticket shortages, severely impacting the customer experience. Cross-border transactions are especially vulnerable to bots from international hackers.
Stranger Danger: The sharing economy is impacting the travel and tourism industry in a major way. These digital platforms allow users to share their personal space, rent a vacation home, buy tickets to events or call a ride. And they are rich veins for fraudsters to mine through bot attacks—which surged 300 percent from a previous high watermark in July.
The Cyber-Attack Suite: While hospitals and universities have often been targeted for attacks with ransomware, reports have been surfacing recently of attacks in the travel sector. Among the highest profile of these was the four-star Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt in Austria, where hackers used ransomware to lock guests out of their rooms in an effort to extort the hotel. Unfortunately, the travel sector can expect more of the same, or worse, in 2017.
Trust, Travelers, and the Age of Digital Identities
Industries, such as financial services and online retail, began hardening their defenses in the face of a constant onslaught of attacks years ago, forcing cybercriminals to hunt for easier prey. A growing number of them seem to be finding it in the travel and tourism industry, which has traditionally been more fragmented, with many small-scale brands only now venturing online due to increased competition.
To learn more about the state of cybercrime in the travel and entertainment industry and how to stop it, download the ThreatMetrix Q4 2016 Cybercrime Report: Travel and Entertainment Industry Deep Drive.