United Airlines is in the hot seat after taking nearly six months to patch a critical vulnerability that could allow an attacker to manage every aspect of a flight reservation using the United Airlines website.
This announcement comes just months after United launched its Bug Bounty Program, asking security researchers to submit vulnerabilities that could potentially damage United customers or company data in exchange for air miles. Shortly after the program was launched, United awarded one researcher, Jordan Wiens, with one million air miles for his finding of a severe remote code execution flaw.
Randy Westergren also took part in this bounty program, finding a critical vulnerability hidden within an API endpoint that exposed the personal information of United Rewards Members.
During his testing, Westergren created a MileagePlus account and launched the United mobile app. He then found a vulnerability related to insecure direct object references which gave him the ability to tweak code, submit a MileagePlus number from a test account, consequently exposing all the PII data associated with the account. This information included sensitive information like flight details, payment receipts with the last 4 of CC, personal information on passengers, and the ability to change or cancel flights.
In Westergren’s recent blog post, he states that he submitted this vulnerability to United over six months ago, yet it took United’s team just under six months to patch. The patch came just after months of follow up and threats to take this information public if not taken seriously.
It’s unfortunate that just as we all began to think airlines understood the seriousness of protecting consumer’s personal information and payment credentials that the United Airlines Bug Bounty Program backfired completely on the company. Although this program was a great first step in the right direction, underestimating the seriousness of vulnerabilities found during this program and only fixing the issue once threats to reach out to the media were issued is not a good way to make this program an effective one.