Security Risks of Airline Passenger Data
Reporter finds an old British Airways boarding pass, and proceeds to use it to find everything else about the person:
We logged on to the BA website, bought a ticket in Broer’s name and then, using the frequent flyer number on his boarding pass stub, without typing in a password, were given full access to all his personal details – including his passport number, the date it expired, his nationality (he is Dutch, living in the UK) and his date of birth. The system even allowed us to change the information.
Using this information and surfing publicly available databases, we were able – within 15 minutes – to find out where Broer lived, who lived there with him, where he worked, which universities he had attended and even how much his house was worth when he bought it two years ago. (This was particularly easy given his unusual name, but it would have been possible even if his name had been John Smith. We now had his date of birth and passport number, so we would have known exactly which John Smith.)
Notice the economic pressures:
“The problem here is that a commercial organisation is being given the task of collecting data on behalf of a foreign government, for which it gets no financial reward, and which offers no business benefit in return,” says Laurie. “Naturally, in such a case, they will seek to minimise their costs, which they do by handing the problem off to the passengers themselves. This has the neat side-effect of also handing off liability for data errors.”