Cyber Security Strategy for Travel & Transportation Industries

On August 18, 2022

The need for cyber security in travel and transportation industries

Technological advances in the past decade have made a positive impact on the travel and transportation industry in a big way. There is increasing reliance on technology for operations and safety and simultaneously a huge influx of sensitive data input by the customers is seen, which brings to the forefront the need for cybersecurity in strengthening the networks. A lot of personal information such as contact details and pertinent banking information is often asked for and shared on the net. The onus of protecting customer data lies with the travel and transportation industry.

The travel and transportation industry have the highest number of vulnerabilities and are easy targets for cyber criminals. It is estimated that by the year 2025, the cost of cybercrime globally is expected to be about $10.5 trillion, with a 15% increase every year.

Why are cybercriminals attracted to the travel industry?

Travelers are not aware of the risks associated with logging in details into cyberspace. They carry a wealth of information such as passports, banking details, travel itineraries etc. which when pieced together gives a complete picture. The hackers then use these details for phishing purposes, for identity theft or to sell on the dark web.

Travelers are most vuln erable while travelling as they are distracted and might miss out on some of the most basic cyber security measures. At home, they might have set up firewalls and other preventive measures but while on a journey they erroneously choose convenience over security leading to exposure.

Simple acts such as connecting to a public Wi-Fi or using unverified USBs, or enabling auto-connect puts their devices and information at risk. Apart from holiday travelers, business travelers too are at risk as they carry with them business related sensitive information. Cybercriminals are most attracted to the travel industry because of the economic value the information is worth.

Cybersecurity in the Tourism Industry: Past, Present and Future

The travel and tourism industry contributes significantly to the global economy. Even though there was a slight dip due to the travel restrictions during the onslaught of the pandemic, the sector has seen a significant rise in the past year contributing to more than 10% of the global GDP.

The past cyber security scenario in the travel industry - The travel industry has always been on the radar of the cyber criminals due to the sheer economic value it generates. Data breaches are common where hackers enter systems and steal personal data worth millions. Even the biggest operators such as the British Airways and Thomas Cook have succumbed to breaches and have had to pay heavily in the past. Serious flaws in the payment authorization processes and inadequate cyber protection by subsidiary units were found to be the reasons for the hacks.

The present cyber security scenario in the travel industry - Although the travel and transportation industry have been lax in the past as far as cyber security was concerned, there has been a significant shift in perspective now, and this sector is going the extra mile to strengthen the cyber security posture of their organisations. A large amount of customer data is in the hands of the hospitality groups, tours and travel companies, airlines, car rental companies etc. which are easy targets for the cyber criminals. Online platforms and booking portals are in vogue now and are used extensively by a majority number of users, leaving networks with low security susceptible to hacks. Third-party vendors are another route to target bid companies if they are not adequately protected.

The future of cyber security in the travel industry - Now that the travel sector has woken up to the risks and threats involved in maintaining poor security standards, they are coming up with fool-proof strategies to counter breaches and protect customer data. Some suggestions to strengthen cyber security systems are:

  • Monitor incoming and outgoing communication for presence of malware
  • Ensure strong passwords are employed
  • Block access to unsecure websites
  • Use update anti-virus software and anti-malware systems
  • Use of a secure CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system with user authorization
  • Provide controlled access to backend data servers and systems
  • Increase cyber security awareness of employees such as refraining from opening email attachments from unknown sources.
  • Install data encryption software to protect sensitive information from misuse

Common types of cyber-attacks in the tourism industry

  • Phishing -
    The most common form of cyber-attack; it acts as an effective tool by tricking the unsuspecting user into clicking innocuous looking emails by posing as genuine promotional or other company related emails. The emails look legitimate to the customer who clicks on it presuming that they are genuine. Common forms of phishing are whale phishing and spear-phishing emails. In whale phishing form of attack, managers at a higher level are targeted, whereas spear-phishing is targeted at company employees in order to breach and access the computer systems.

  • DDos Attacks -
    A Distributed-Denial-Of-Service attack is aimed at the company’s servers by increasing traffic to such an extent that the online services are halted. They hold the company to ransom and extort financial gain in order to restore the systems.

  • Malware and ransomware -
    These are forms of malicious software that can infect and corrupt data once they have access to data. These systems are then held for ransom. The malware or ransomware can either destroy data, install spyware or inflict further damages to the systems by incorporating harmful malware across the entire network.

  • Man-in-the-middle attack -
    It uses unsecure Wi-Fi to infiltrate and steal data of a two-party transaction. It can also carry out this form of attack using software installed on the victim’s device.

  • SQL Injection -
    Using Structured Query Language (SQL) to insert malicious code into servers to reveal sensitive information. This can also be carried out by inserting malicious code into the search box of a website.

  • DNS Tunnelling -
    It masks outbound traffic and hides data or procures it from a compromised system. It further sends commands to obtain information.

What are the emerging cybersecurity threats?

  • Cloud Jacking -
    Target businesses that use cloud storage and infiltrate their systems and use the resources for cryptocurrency mining

  • AI-powered cyberattacks -
    Artificial intelligence is used to trick consumers into disclosing personal or financial information by mimicking human behavior

  • Cyber-attacks using vehicles -
    Car rental agencies are especially vulnerable where vehicles are accessed to track an individual’s location and steal personal data, itinerary, driving histories etc.

  • Creating artificial/synthetic identities -
    Using stolen identities to create fabricated credentials. For instance, the stolen date of birth and social security number will be associated with the wrong physical address

  • Deepfakes and deepfake voice technology -
    Using artificial intelligence to create videos or images that appear real to incriminate individuals of actions not done by them

Cyber security best practices to protect yourself effectively from attacks

It is clear that no sector or industry is spared from cyber-attacks. An attack is not a fatality, an organization can recover from it provided it acts quickly and turn the crisis into a learning advantage. Due to the diverse nature of websites, it is difficult to lay down precise guidelines to thwart attacks, yet a generalized observation of certain recommendations are given below:

  • First and foremost, train employees, staff, and bring awareness to customers and partners of the different types of cyber-attacks and how one can effectively evade them.
  • With the help of the internal cyber security team or team up with an outside cyber security vendor to scan the entire system for vulnerabilities and develop an action plan.
  • Analyse on a regular basis the streams of files with real-time threat detection tools
  • Understand how hacking methods are evolved with the help of machine learning
  • Continuously monitor traffic variations for any anomalies. Any unexplained spike in the traffic should be investigated.
  • Look out for unsuccessful login attempts and have them investigated.
  • Install surge protectors and UPS (uninterrupted power supply) to save your data in case of power disruption. All computers and networked devices should be plugged into a UPS and for other standard less-sensitive equipment surge protectors ought to do.
  • Regularly update and patch your operating systems. Download operating system updates without delay as they are often found to have enhanced security features.
  • Install and activate hardware and software firewalls which can prevent employees from browsing inappropriate websites. It is also important to protect off-site employees who use a cloud service provider or a virtual private network.

Digital Safety Tips for Travelers

  • Disable auto-connect on your devices: Turn off unneeded connectivity including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and auto-connect to networks.
  • Carry a backup battery: Using free USB power charging stations comes with its own risk. USB connections can be modified to download data from your device or install malware on it. If you are not carrying a backup battery bank then simply use the traditional wall plugs to be on the safer side.
  • Shred your tickets: Boarding passes, luggage tags, tickets give out a lot of information which the hackers can use to get information about the traveler’s loyalty rewards program. This is equivalent to cash for the cybercriminals. Thus, post travel destroying the related documents are vital to avoid being misused.
  • Use ATM/Debit cards with caution: Ideally use ATM machines inside the airport or bank where the tampering of the machines is relatively difficult. Check if the point-of-sale systems are secure before using debit cards at stores or restaurants.
  • Use Wi-Fi cautiously: Cyber criminals can host Wi-Fi in public places in order to gather credit card information and other data. Digital eavesdropping can easily happen even in legitimate networks. Use VPN networks for additional security.