Airtight security introduced for airline boarding passes

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airport-1515431Because airline boarding passes can be issued up to 24 hours before a flight departs, and due to security gaps in existing boarding pass technology, fraudsters with even limited technical know-how could tamper with and gain access to the information they contain.

The problem

While measures around privacy and security within the air transportation industry have remained largely unchanged over the years, fraudsters’ modi operandi have not. In fact, fraudsters have become more sophisticated with the rise of digital and the proliferation of data – putting both airlines and their passengers, today more than ever, at significant risk.

Airline boarding passes, in particular, have seen numerous systems put in place over the past decade, to help authorities and airline officials identify fake boarding passes, with most of these relying on advanced printing techniques.

The bar-coded boarding pass (BCBP) became widely available in 2010 and comprises a 2-dimensional (2D) bar code printed on a paper boarding pass or sent to a mobile phone for electronic boarding passes (e-boarding passes).

The BCBP standard was originally published in 2005 by the body responsible for global standards for airlines’ safety and security, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which updated it in 2008 to include symbologies for mobile phones, and again a year later to include a field for digital signatures in mobile bar codes.

While the move to BCBP has made travelling more convenient, in many instances, for travellers who are able to use mobile boarding passes, the technology behind it has not eliminated the risk of ticket fraud or identity theft, because data is not encrypted.

Not only does unencrypted travel material leave it susceptible to being tampered with and being used unlawfully and dangerously, it also leaves passengers wide open to identity fraud, given that airline tickets contain a great deal of personally identifiable information (PII).

SigniFlow Americas CEO, Laila Robak, explains: “Besides the risks involved with ticket fraud, even companies that apply digital signatures to its boarding tickets do so only from a ticket integrity point of view. However, there is still unencrypted data within those tickets, and anyone with access to the bar code has access to the passengers’ data, creating a risk of identity fraud, which is certainly a security and compliance concern.”

The solution

With a team of cryptographic experts and experienced engineers behind it, the SigniFlow solution, which operates in a cryptographic signing environment, is a natural fit to build, develop and enhance the available technology behind boarding passes, and to irrevocably seal the data they contain.

According to IATA’s BCBP Implementation Guide, which outlines the existing barcoded boarding pass solution: “Bar Code on Printed Boarding Pass: the default Bar Code presented on printed boarding pass is a 2-dimensional Bar Code in PDF417 standard containing a structure data message (SDM). On the request from the Airlines version 7 extend the standards to allow Aztec, Datamatrix or QR code formats on printed boarding pass those formats are currently used on Electronic (Mobile) Boarding Pass only.”

SigniFlow Director of Development Eugene Smit explains: “SigniFlow’s microservice architecture allows for signing, encrypting and verifying data on all boarding passes, enabling the generation of datastreams, signature streams or image-based bar codes, such as Aztec, QR, PDF417 and Datamatrix.

“The system produced by SigniFlow, allows a ticket\pass generator to issue a unique private key for the signer, using our microservices, and the signer is then able to sign any datastream, and use complimentary methods to produce bar codes of the data.”

SigniFlow offers two solutions, both of which extend on and secure existing boarding pass technology:

  • The Full Package solution: SigniFlow integrates with the airline’s existing system. When passenger data is inputted, SigniFlow collects the data string, creates the 2D bar code (Aztec, PDF417, QR, Datamatrix), embeds the data string, then encrypts and signs with an ECC (Elliptic Curve Cryptography) certificate, after which it is sent back to the airline for the boarding ticket.
  • Data string encryption & signing: In this case, the airline continues to use its current 2D bar code generation system, and SigniFlow integrates via API to collect passengers’ data, encrypt and sign the string, and then send it back to the airline, which will embed it in the bar code.

Either way, explains Robak, the idea is to provide not only the required digital signature itself, but also encryption of the data, so that only electronic devices – terminals and readers – will have the ability to recognize authenticity, and to decipher the embedded data.

“We also provide the instruction and processes to the certified authorities for access to the public key through either a key distribution to its devices, in case of no network connectivity, or the public key to be included in their key store system where devices can access it and recognize/decode the data.”

The differentiator

Not only is the SigniFlow solution steeped in cryptography, which eliminates tampering and identity theft risks altogether, it also offers seamless integration into companies’ systems.

Because the solution allows companies to add security component to tickets without having to replace their existing systems, but rather by simply adding a new security module, it is simple and safe, and SigniFlow enables them to be compliant with several industry, national and international standards.

“Stronger policies in national security have been enforced in many countries and companies that issue tickets, whether for air travelling, other transportation methods or entertainment, also need to comply with data privacy standards, such as the GDPR. By using our solution they can target both,” says Robak.

How it works

  • Secure cloud HSM where the keys are stored
  • SigniFlow Hybrid server deployed within client control
  • Signing request issues to the SigniFlow Hybrid server
  • Verification Requests issued to the cloud HSM or to a centralized public key store

There are two main Public Key Encryption algorithms: RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) and ECC (Elliptical Curve Cryptography). While SigniFlow is compatible with both, the ECC certificate has been specifically identified by the IATA for boarding pass signing requirements.

ECC is, in simple terms, an encryption algorithm with higher capacity and lighter weight than the RSA encryption algorithm, which means you need less bits to for stronger keys. Because the keys are smaller, it means it needs less processing, leading to better efficiency and lighter “documents”. For example, the most commonly used RSA encryption algorithm size is the 2048 bit keys, which is the equivalent in security and strength to a 224 bit ECC key.

To find out more about SigniFlow’s cryptography-based solutions, visit www.signiflow.com or contact us on the relevant number below:

International Contact Centre: 002710 300 4899

South Africa: +27(0)11-516-9403

Americas: +1-603-717-4248

United Kingdom: +44(0)208-611-2681

 

[REFERENCES]

  1. IATA – Technical Peripheral Specifications
  2. US Department of Homeland Security – Credential Authentication Technology/Boarding Pass Scanning Technology
  3. IATA – Airlines Complete Move to Bar-Coded Boarding Passes
  4. IATA – Passenger Services Conference Resolutions Manual
  5. Red Goat – The Not-So-Secret Life of Boarding Passes
  6. Tech Target – Personally Identifiable Information
  7. Wikipedia – Boarding Pass
  8. com – Ticketprinting.com Security Features
  9. Wandera – Are Airlines Putting Your Data at Risk?