Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Unresponsive "comments" from Amadeus
Exactly three weeks after a public demonstration of the insecurity of public Web gateways to computerized reservation systems (CRSs) -- a threat to travellers that I've been writing, speaking and telling the CRS operators about for more than 15 years -- one of those companies has responded to my request for comment, but without answering any of my questions.
Here, in its entirety, is the statement I received late Tuesday from Amadeus (which hosts PNR data for airlines and travel agencies and operates the CheckMyTrip.com for viewing PNR data), followed by my comments:Continue reading "Unresponsive "comments" from Amadeus"
Saturday, 14 January 2017
The REAL-ID Act and the TSA proposal to require ID to fly
Much of my work for the last decade as a consultant to the Identity Project (PapersPlease.org) on travel-related civil-liberties and human rights issues has focused on requirements to obtain government permission and/or show government-issued ID credentials in order to travel by common carrier.
The TSA tells travellers they have to show government-issued ID to fly, harasses those who decline to do so, and sometimes has them arrested by local police on trumped-up (will that word now have new meaning?) charges.
But people with no ID at all fly every day. "We have a procedure for that," the TSA says whenever its demands for ID are challenged in court.
Now the TSA has proposed -- in a backhanded way calculated to evade public or Congressional debate or judicial oversight -- to impose a new official requirement for all airline passengers either to show government-issued ID or to certify that they live in a state that the DHS deems sufficiently compliant with the REAL-ID Act 2005. This ID requirement would be an additional prerequisite before the TSA will give them "permission" to pass though its checkpoints or board airline flights.
For more on what's wrong with this proposal, see the comments filed this week with the TSA by the Identity Project and this post from the Identity Project blog.
Thursday, 12 January 2017
"What can I do to protect my PNR data?"
Since the recent public demonstration of some of the security and privacy vulnerabilities of airline reservations systems that I've been writing and speaking about for more than 15 years, people have been asking me, "What can I do to protect myself against stalking, harassment, surveillance, and fraud when I travel?"
Here are some answers from an interview I gave last week to Lucia Blasco of the BBC World Service:Continue reading ""What can I do to protect my PNR data?""
Friday, 30 December 2016
CRS/GDS companies and travellers' privacy
[In the middle of the presentation by SRLabs at 33C3 on Tuesday, Nemanja Nikodijevic discovered that Amadeus had taken its "CheckMyTrip.com" PNR-viewing Web site offline to prevent the vulnerabilities of the site from being demonstrated in real time. Screen capture from CC3C video by permission of SRLabs. Click images for larger versions.]
This past Tuesday at the 33C3 conference in Hamburg, Germany, Karsten Nohl and Nemanja Nikodijevic of SRLabs publicly demonstrated that airline reservations systems still have the same fundamental insecurity, in the same ways that I have been writing and speaking about for more than 15 years.
Lest there be any doubt, while the the team from SRLabs was inspired to investigate this subject in part by an interview with me on a German IT news site, I had no contact with them and was entirely unaware of their work until they contacted me last week. They worked entirely independently of me, and had no access to any information from me except my published writing and public speeches. When they contacted me last week to let me know that they would be giving a presentation on this topic at 33Cc, their research was already complete.
I thought that expert security researchers might have found more vulnerabilities than I had found. Perhaps they did, but haven't yet discussed them publicly. But all of the attacks they demonstrated in their public presentation at 33C3 exploited the lack of real passwords on public Web gateways to Passenger Name Records (PNRs) operated by computerized reservation systems (CRSs/GDSs) for itinerary viewing, and by airlines for online booking, ticketing, check-in, changes, and cancellations.
These specific vulnerabilities have been publicly reported and discussed in print for at least 15 years, starting around the time Amadeus began its beta test of CheckMyTrip.com.
In light of some of the statements attributed to Amadeus -- the target of most of the sample exploits demonstrated by SRLabs -- in other news stories this week, it's important for the public and for government officials with authority over privacy and data protection to understand that this was not a demonstration of new vulnerabilities or anything that wasn't already well-known to Sabre, Amadeus, and Travelport (the current owner of both Galileo/Apollo and Worldspan).
Amadeus' reported responses have focused on the brute-force attack on PNR record locators, but the real problem, which has long been known, is the use of the record locator as though it were a password and without telling travellers that they need to keep it secret like a password that can't be changed if compromised. In many real-world targetted attack scenarios, the attacker will have other ways than trial and error to obtain a record locator. And real-world attacks are likely to be targetted: There are easier ways for hackers to obtain credit card numbers or money. The motivation for hacking a CRS/GDS or obtaining PNR data is to find out where someone will be, and when, so that the cyber-attacker can stalk their victim, surveil her, harass or attack her physically, rob her home while she is away, kidnap her and/or her children, or kill her.
To set the record straight, below is more detail than I would normally go into about the chronology of my reporting on this subject, followed by my recommendations for action and the questions I have asked Amadeus.Continue reading "CRS/GDS companies and travellers' privacy"
Tuesday, 27 December 2016
"Travel data: fraud with booking codes is too easy"
[Some of the privacy and security threats to PNR data and the CRS network, from my testimony in 2013 as an invited expert witness before the Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Click image for larger version.]
Video, slides, and blog post of presentation by SRLabs at 33C3
(27 December 2016, Hamburg, Germany)
Who's watching you while you travel?
(details of this vulnerability published on my Web site, 18 April 2002)
Flight booking systems lack basic privacy safeguards, researchers say
(by Eric Auchard, Reuters, 27 December 2016)
Reisedaten: Betrug mit Buchungscodes ist zu einfach
(by Patrick Beuth, Zeit, 26 December 2016)
Unsicherheit bei Flugbuchungen: "Greift mehr Legacy-Systeme an"
(by Hauke Gierow, Golem.de, 28 December 2016)
Une étude alerte sur les failles des réservations de vol
(by Alexis Orsini, Numerama.com, 28 December 2016)
33C3: Gravierende Sicherheitslücken bei Reisebuchungssystemen
(by Stefan Krempl, Heise Online, 28 December 2016)
Amadeus-Sicherheitsproblem: Einladung für Cyber-Vandalen
(by Frank Patalong, Der Spiegel, 27 December 2016)
Today at the 33rd Chaos Communication Congress (33C3) in Hamburg, Germany, white-hat hackers from Security Research Labs inspired by news reports in Germany about my work will publicly demonstrate their ability to access and alter other people's airline reservations (PNRs) by exploiting vulnerabilities including ones that I wrote about and called to the attention of all of the four major Computerized Reservation Systems in 2002, but that the CRSs have made a deliberate choice not to close because (a) government authorities have not enforced existing data protection laws (in other countries than the USA, which has no such laws) against CRSs, airlines, or travel agencies, and (b) these travel companies put their profits ahead of passengers' privacy and security.
There's been some advance coverage in German print (mentioning my work) and television news media. (Zeit, Handelsblatt, Der Spiegel.) But the CRS exploits discussed in these news stories are not the most serious of those that I expect the folks from SRLabs (well-known for their previous public exploits) to demonstrate at 33C3. Watch the livestream here at 21:45 CET in Hamburg, 12:45 p.m. PST in San Francisco. Recorded video will be posted later, but I don't know how soon. I'll add a link once it is available.
As I wrote in my book, The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace, which was published in early 2001 before 9/11, "Privacy is the Achilles heel of Internet travel planning." In that book (page 121), I also wrote about the vulnerability of the public Web gateways operated by CRS companies -- the vulnerability exploited in today's demonstration at 33C3, of which the first was Sabre's VirtuallyThere.com:
If you make reservations through Travelocity.com or any other Sabre travel agency, you can view your itinerary at Sabre's "Virtually There" Web site (www.virtuallythere.com) by entering your last name and the six-character "record locator"" for your reservations. This is good if you've misplaced your printed itinerary, but at present is dangerously insecure. Anyone who sees your name and record locator on an itinerary (through a window envelope, for example, or over your shoulder in an airport check-in line) can find out your home address, the exact dates you''ll be away, where you are staying, etc. Properly secured, it could be a great feature, and hopefully Travelocity.com will have secured it before you read this. If they haven't, don''t make any reservations in Sabre until they do, unless you want every detail of your trip to be public.
At the time that this was written and this book went to press in 2000, I was already in active discussions with Sabre about this issue. Eventually Sabre made some partial improvements, which I reported on in 2002, but they were insufficient and in any event proved to be temporary.
After each of the other CRS companies launched sites imitating VirtuallyThere.com, and with the same vulnerabilities, and none of them responded to my repeated requests for comment about those vulnerabilities, I went into more detail in an online supplement to the book in 2002:
What else has changed in 2001-2002, since "The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace"... went to press? Here are a few of the trends, changes, and news items I think are most significant for consumers and travelers:...
The security and privacy vulnerabilities of the three main Internet itinerary viewing services, VirtuallyThere.com (Sabre), ViewTrip.com (Galileo/Apollo), and CheckMyTrip.com (Amadeus) have not been corrected as of March 2002. I mentioned these in "The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace", but I didn't highlight them in the book because I assumed that they would soon be fixed. More than a year later, that hasn't happened.
These services currently do not use secure or secret passwords, and pose an extreme risk of severe privacy invasion. Even if you don't use these services yourself, they make complete details of your itinerary available to anyone who knows your last name and reservation number ("record locator"). Reservation numbers are printed conspicuously on itineraries, and are often visible through window envelopes, or to "shoulder surfers" in check-in lines or any other public place where you might have your itinerary in view. It's fairly obvious that no one who designed these services gave any real thought to their privacy implications (which is typical of Internet services).
Most online and offline travel agencies use either Sabre, Galileo/Apollo, or Amadeus, so you may not be able to avoid having your itinerary revealed in this way....
I urge consumers to complain to Sabre, Galileo, and Amadeus. Demand that they change their security procedures before a stalker, abuser, or kidnapper takes advantage of one of these services.
In comments submitted to a privacy roundtable convened by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2009 and co-signed by organizations including the Consumer Travel Alliance (Travelers United) and the Consumer Federation of America, I wrote:
Travel records are highly vulnerable to unauthorized access....Because no logs are normally kept of access to PNR's or customer profiles stored in a CRS/GDS,... unauthorized access... could go undetected indefinitely.
CRS's/GDS's have deployed insecure public Web gateways that allow anyone who knows your name and "record locator" to view the complete itinerary from your PNR. But a "record locator" is not a password and does not provide adequate access control: record locators are printed and displayed everywhere from itineraries and tickets to boarding pass stubs (frequently discarded after a flight) and the tags on checked luggage, which are exposed to public scrutiny, unattended, while on the carousel at the destination waiting to be claimed....
The absence of access logs in the major CRS's/GDS's makes it impossible for travel companies that use these systems to comply with the fundamental principles of fair information
practices - or even, in many cases, their own claimed privacy policies. Since no access logs are kept or included in PNR's, travel companies themselves don't know who has accessed data they entered. As they have admitted in response to some of our requests, they don't know and thus can't tell consumers who has accessed data about them, which data, or from where in the world.
I'm available today from San Francisco for interviews by e-mail, phone, or video Skype before or after the 33C3 session. I'll also be in Europe for two weeks in late January and early February, possibly with some time in Germany. I'd be happy to participate in public discussions of this issue, or to meet privately with anyone from a CRS or data protection authority who wants to talk about what can and should be done. If you are interested, please get in touch.
In the meantime, here are answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions I've been getting in the last few days:Continue reading ""Travel data: fraud with booking codes is too easy""
Wednesday, 21 December 2016
"This is what 'extreme vetting' means."
I'm quoted at length in a story today in The Verge and on CNBC about the DHS "Analytical Framework for Intelligence" (AFI), a data-mining and profiling system outsourced to a company founded by a member of the Trump transition team and used to "vet" immigrants, foreign visitors, and US citizens, to decide whether or not they are allowed to travel and how they are treated when they travel, on the basis of an aggregated database of government and commercial information:
"When Trump uses the term 'extreme vetting', AFI is the black-box system of profiling algorithms that he's talking about," says Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project, a civil liberties initiative that focuses on the rights of travelers. "This is what extreme vetting means."
- "AFI" is the latest DHS name for "extreme vetting" (Edward Hasbrouck, PapersPlease.org)
- Documents suggest Palantir could help power Trump's 'extreme vetting' of immigrants (Spencer Woodman, The Verge.com; reprinted by CNBC)
Thursday, 15 December 2016
"Are Government Fines Really Improving Air Travel?"
Are Government Fines Really Improving Air Travel? (by Christoher Elliott, Huffington Post, 5 December 2016):
The Department of Transportation fined airlines $4.5 million in 2016 for infractions ranging from lengthy tarmac delays to failing to compensate passengers for lost luggage, almost double last year's amount and the highest since 2013.
The DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division, which is responsible for ensuring that airlines follow federal regulations, issued 23 consent orders -- voluntary agreements worked out between the agency and an airline that generally have the same effect as a court order -- in 2016, up from 15 last year....
But it isn't clear whether these actions are benefitting the passengers they're supposed to protect. Industry watchers say the numbers don't tell the full story....
Industry critics are ... unhappy with the size of the DOT fines, saying they are not a significant deterrent. Airlines collect about $250 billion in revenue each year for travel to, from and within the United States, which means their DOT fines represent about 0.002 percent of their profits....
Consumer advocates say that while they're encouraged by this year's enforcement actions, the DOT has focused on some issues while ignoring others.... More needs to be done to keep them informed, says Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, an advocacy group for air travelers. He thinks that the DOT needs to begin posting some of the rules that deal with lost-luggage compensation and denied-boarding statements at airports, so passengers will know their rights.
"It would keep the airlines honest," Leocha says.
But would it make air travel any better? It's hard to tell.
"Given the puny financial settlements, the real test of effectiveness should be whether airlines comply with the promises in these consent agreements," says consumer advocate Edward Hasbrouck. "But there's no evidence of DOT follow-up audits of compliance with these consent decrees, or of enhanced penalties for repeat violations -- even though violating a consent agreement is contempt of court."
Sadly, most of what I said in the first year of the Obama Administration about the need for DOT action to protect consumers is still relevant in the final lame-duck days of President Obama's second term. And with the former owner of a (failed) airline moving into the White House, we can scarcely expect his Administration to sympathize with passengers against airline owners.
Travelers United and other consumer advocates for travellers will need your support more than ever.
Monday, 12 December 2016
Notes from Amsterdam, Brussels, and Istanbul
["Hasbrouck" is a French Huguenot name, presumably of Flemish etymology, meaning "Rabbit Marsh" or, as a Belgian customs man once told me, "Swamp of the Bunnies". It's spelled differently in France, South Africa, the USA, and the Netherlands. One evening on the way back to my hostel from a concert at the Orgelpark, I found myself on "Hasbrouck Street" (photo above) in Amsterdam, which I hadn't known existed.]
Travel for me is always a mix of business and pleasure. Here are some of the travel and other lessons from my latest trip: two and a half weeks in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Istanbul, representing the National Writers Union at international meetings.
Terrorism and travel bargains
[Billboards and banners with nationalist and anti-terrorist slogans -- seen here in Taksim Square, near the site of one of the bombings earlier this year -- are currently ubiquitous throughout Istanbul.]
Within the last year, there have been terrorist bombings in the check-in areas of both the Brussels (Zaventem/National) and Istanbul (Ataturk) airports, in downtown Brussels, and repeatedly in central Istanbul, as well as an unsuccessful attempted military coup in Turkey.
These events have scared off many foreign tourists, forcing down hotel prices and creating bargains for opportunistic visitors in both cities, especially Istanbul.
As with natural disasters or financial crises, it may seem ghoulish to seek out sites of terrorism for our subsequent vacations. But one of the tactics of terrorism is to scare off tourists as a way to inflict economic damage on the government, businesses, and the local population. In the wake of such an attack, local people are often more eager than ever to to show that they welcome visitors (and their spending) and don't share the terrorists' antipathy to foreigners. The welcome mat is out, prices are low, museums and monuments are less crowded, and often the government sponsors special promotions to woo back frightened tourists.Continue reading "Notes from Amsterdam, Brussels, and Istanbul"
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Elected to IFRRO's Board of Directors
I've been elected to the Board of Directors of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO). For the next three years, I will hold the sole seat on the Board reserved for a representative of journalists, authors, and other writers worldwide.
Although the name sometimes leads to confusion, IFRRO has nothing to do with abortion or reproductive rights. It's the global coordinating and standard-setting body for "reproduction rights organizations" (RROs) -- rights management agencies that license photocopying and other "secondary" uses of published written and printed works.
I was nominated for the IFRRO Board by the National Writers Union (NWU) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries. The NWU is one of the US affiliates of the IFJ, although the NWU also includes many other types of writers as well as journalists. At the IFRRO annual general meeting in Amsterdam where the IFRRO Board was elected, I represented both the NWU and the IFJ.
Enough with the alphabet soup. What am I doing on the IFRRO Board, and why should writers (or readers) care?Continue reading "Elected to IFRRO's Board of Directors"
Sunday, 30 October 2016
"Generation X': A Brief History of Dropouts from the U. of Chicago"
I'm honored to be among the former U. of C. students from "Generation X" featured in a thoughtful article by Hannah Edgar in the current issue of the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, Generation X': A Brief History of Dropouts and Transfer Students at the University of Chicago.
(The title of the article is an insider pun on the way the U. of C. refers to alumni like myself as "ex-degree", with an "X" and the year we left the University, in lieu of our degree and year of receiving it.)
Congratulations to Hannah Edgar for digging so deeply into this underreported (for reasons some of which she explores in the article) topic, and for including me in this distinguished company along with others including Andrew Patner, my classmate and, much later, one of Ms. Edgar's mentors.
And thanks to the U. of C., in all seriousness, for a profoundly valuable educational experience.
One of many issues Ms. Edgar and I talked about that didn't make it into the article was to what degree the inability of the U. of C. to deal with its "image problem" was, and perhaps still is, related to homophobia and/or Asperger's Syndrome.
When I read a description of the longstanding negative stereotype of a U. of Chicago student quoted from a former President of the U. of C. in a recent history of the College, my reaction was, "Is this a description of a stereotypical faggot? Or of a stereotypical person with Asperger's? Or both?"
The answer, of course, is "both". But no matter how obvious that answer is, it's one the U. of C. has yet to confront. Here's the U. of C. student stereotype. You be the judge of what it means:
Every high school principal and college counselor knows precisely the kind of student they think we want, and they endeavor conscientiously to urge these students to come to the University of Chicago. The stereotype varies a bit in different parts of the country, but it adds up pretty well into a certain kind of youngster. First of all, he must be odd and not accepted in games and social affairs by the other students. He must be bright, not necessarily in the conventional sense of high I.Q., but in some extravagant and unusual way. He must have read and pondered esoteric things far beyond his years. He draws a sharp breath when reference is made to Aristotle, St. Thomas, John Donne, and James Joyce. He wears glasses, does not dance, deplores sports, and has advanced ideas on labor and the theory of relativity.... The converse of this stereotype is also the case. As one college counselor phrased it to me, "It simply does not occur to any of our normal students to go to the University of Chicago." We have insisted that the purpose of a university is to train the mind, and the inference has been drawn that the rest of the person may go hang so far as we are concerned. We have deplored fun, snorted at anyone who wanted to develop himself physically, and sneered at anyone who conceived of a college education as having any vocational or practical significance.... The stereotype which emerges is thought to be the only person who would be interested in or profit by our system of education." [U. of C. President Lawrence Kimpton, address to the faculty, 1954; quoted by Dean of the College John W. Boyer, Chicago Occasional Papers on Higher Education XXII, 2012, pp. 82-83.]
I can't say whether there was any larger a proportion of queers at the U. of Chicago than anywhere else -- I arrived on the Quads as a 17-year-old sexual naïf who was completely oblivious to such matters even though there were already some out gay students in the College. I wouldn't have a concept of bisexuality, much less the sexual self-awareness to be able to recognize it in myself, until a year or two after I left Chicago. But looking back on my time in Hyde Park, it seems clear that a (mostly) deeply closeted, unspoken, and unexamined gay male sexuality was a significant component of the "cloistered" culture of the campus.
As for Aspy's, the U. of Chicago was and is a center for for the study of psychology and human development, among many other things. So there were probably U. of C. scholars who had heard of "Asperger's Syndrome" as early as the late 1970s, when I was there. But the term wouldn't enter general public discourse until decades later. And to this day, I have never heard anyone describe the student body of the College of the U. of C. as characterized by an inordinate percentage -- even compared to other "elite" and "hothouse" academic institutions -- of people "on the spectrum".
Today, however, now that we have the words and concepts to describe it, that should go without saying -- or should be said, and its significance and implications discussed openly and in some depth. It would be impossible to address the character of the typical student at the College of the U. of Chicago without reference to Asperger's.
(For what it's worth, the graduate and professional schools at the U. of C. were more "normal", or at least more in line with the norms of graduate and professional schools.)
I'm quoted in the Maroon as saying, among other things about my time at the College of the U. of C. in 1979-1980, "It was the first time I met smart and interesting people who were weird in the ways that I was weird, and who didn't make fun of me or think that I was terribly weird. And that was all wonderful."
As I told Ms. Edgar in the course of a long conversation (her story has been in the works for months, and reflects an immense amount of research), I wasn't just talking about finding myself for the first time in a community of Aspy's, or at least where Aspy's were common enough not to be a focus of special attention. That was, however, certainly a part of what it meant for me to find a home, in some sort of personal as well as in an intellectual sense, at the College of U. of C.