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Ryanair disses booking system security fears

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Updated Budget airline Ryanair has reacted with indignation to suggestions that its booking system ought to be more secure.

While most airlines only allow modifications to bookings once a passenger has verified themselves using a password and booking reference, Ryanair adopts a lower standard. German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel found that Ryanair’s booking system gives a user three ways to log in before modifying their booking.

One of the mechanisms involves entering three pieces of information - date of flight, email address and origin and destination of flight - that might easily be guessed, providing a miscreant knew a prospective mark was about to go off on a trip. Such information might easily be gleaned from Facebook, Twitter or FourSquare, of course.

Daniel de Carvalho, a spokesman for Ryanair, dismissed concerns that extra (or as he put it "superfluous"1) security to its booking system might be needed in defence against possible attacks. He told Der Tagesspiegel that it's up to passengers to keep their information secure, implying it's a passenger's hard luck if something goes awry.

But as web developer Thomas Cannon points out, email addresses are freely handed out on business cards and seldom kept secret. Once an email address is known then it becomes a simple exercise in scripting to try every possible combination of flight for a particular day.

"If we knew someone’s email address and were to write a script that programatically submitted requests to the Ryanair website at a relatively slow rate of four per second, it would take just over 10 minutes to check every flight permutation for a flight on a single date," Cannon argues. "To brute force every permutation against an email address for the whole of next month it would take just over five hours."

Once logged into a booking system a criminal would be able to modify bookings or add services. However Ryanair said valid credit card details would still have to be entered at this point. Previously used payment details would not be used.

"Payment would have to be paid by the 'hacker' - which has never happened," a Ryanair spokesman told El Reg.

"To access a booking you have to enter personal information that only you should know, there is nothing to gain by accessing another persons booking and there has never been a case of someone fraudulently doing so," he said. "Talk of 'brute force' attacks are pointless and overly dramatic."

Bootnote

1 The Ryanair spokesman who spoke to us said that nobody at Ryanair would use the word "superfluous".

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