United Airlines will reward hackers with air miles

Bug bounty programme is first of its kind for US airline industry

United Airlines has set up a bug bounty programme, which rewards hackers with air miles, in a bid to beef up its cyber security standing.

With traditional bug bounty programmes, when hackers or researchers find a flaw, rather than exploiting it, they receive a monetary reward for reporting it.

United Airlines has opted for a different route. Instead of money, the firm is paying out air miles for bug reports. It is believed to be the first ever airline in the US to do so.

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So far, the company confirms, two awards have been paid out, both to a total of one million miles each. At the time of writing, that equates to 16 round-trip economy tickets from Europe to the US, with change left over.

The US airline has been hit by a series of high-profile cyber gaffes over the past few months, including one instance of a security expert claiming to have hacked into his plane's avionics through the in-flight entertainment, and two separate occasions where technical faults grounded United Airlines planes nationwide.

However, the bounty programme comes with certain restrictions. "Onboard Wi-Fi, entertainment systems or avionics", for example, are all off-limits. This is to do with safety concerns, as unauthorised access to critical flight systems could prove hugely dangerous.

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The terms of the agreement also prevent disclosure of the bug, as well as exploiting it at any point.

Bug bounties are a common practice among tech-savvy start-ups, but have yet to see widespread adoption outside of the world of IT. If United Airlines proves successful with its programme, this could signal the start of a new wave of bounty-hunting.

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