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Travel has entered an era of “cyber insecurity” and consumers are more vulnerable to breaches when they travel.
That is the view of security specialist and political scientist Pete Singer, who told the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) summit in Dallas that cyber fraud cost an estimated $500 billion globally last year and the annual bill is estimated to hit $2,000 billion by 2019.
Singer said: “Travel and tourism businesses hold a massive amount of valuable information on partner businesses, customers and employees that hackers can sell.”
He told the WTTC: “All of you have experienced attacks and it’s highly likely you have experienced breaches.
“We’ve entered an era of cyber insecurity – 97% of [US] Fortune 500 companies admit they have been hacked and 60% of all online attacks went after SMEs last year.”
Yet companies are doing too little to protect themselves and customers. Singer said: “A study of 46 major travel brands found only 11, one in four, had taken steps to protect customer emails from fraud.
“We share everything online except security. Companies don’t like talking about it. They don’t like talking to the authorities about it and they don’t like talking to customers about it. No one is getting smarter.”
He described the travel industry as “between the best and worst” when it comes to security, with the financial sector the best and health care the worst.
Singer also suggested people are at greater risk of security breaches when they travel, saying: “There are countries where the threat may be greater, and we tend to move through spaces and use networks not giving the same amount of security [when we travel].
“We also tend to make larger purchases, providing opportunities to attack.”
He said: “You should not always have your Wi-Fi on. Five years ago fraudsters were not going after mobiles, now we see more going after mobile devices.
“When travel companies offer an app they better ask how security was baked into it, because someone will try to exploit it and the outcome will be financial costs or customers fleeing or customers suing.”
Singer added: “It’s a question how much of your life you [should] have on your phone. There is a balance of convenience and security.
“I could operate in a much more secure manner but without being able to take advantage of all the apps I like. It’s about convenience, but it comes with a security price.
“It’s up to companies to try to reduce the tension. If you make it easy to be insecure, people will be insecure.”
Singer warned that the internet of things will “create a new landscape of threats”.
“We have already seen the hacking of cars, of drones, of industrial control systems including the engine room of a cruise liner,” he said.