Loyalty programs that attract consumers with free coffee, gas, airline miles, hotel stays, and more if they spend enough with their preferred brands are under full-scale assault by cyberattackers. A new report out from Akamai this week shows cybercriminals are targeting rewards programs with impunity, reaping significant profits on the Dark Web by reselling account access, points, and other rewards fraudulently siphoned from loyalty accounts.
Between July 2018 and June 2020, Akamai observed more than 63 billion credential-stuffing attacks lobbied against the retail, travel, and hospitality industries, all of which rely heavily on consumer awards programs, according to its report. A classic cybercriminal maneuver, credential stuffing utilizes customers’ username/password combinations stolen from one organization and attempts to force them into log-in fields on a wide range of websites. By stuffing credentials, attackers take advantage of consumer propensity for password reuse across their different online accounts to scoop up easy account takeovers (ATO) around the Web.
Loyalty program accounts are easy pickings for credential stuffing because “many consumers don’t think of them as high risk and are more likely to use weak passwords or mirror accounts they’re using with another organization,” explains report co-author and Akamai editorial director Martin McKeay. Additionally, consumers don’t watch their loyalty program accounts as fastidiously as they would, say, a bank account. According to a report from Forter and the Loyalty Security Association, 45% of loyalty programs accounts are inactive.
In addition to credential stuffing, Akamai says attackers are also targeting loyalty programs with other types of web attacks.
“Criminals also targeted the retail, travel, and hospitality industries online at the source, using SQL Injection (SQLi) and Local File Inclusion (LFI) attacks,” the report explains.
During the same two-year time frame, researchers observed 4 billion web attacks against these industries, comprising 41% of the overall online attack volume measured by the company.
While loyalty accounts don’t offer fraudsters the same direct access to cash or credit the way a financial institution account would, in almost every instance the contents of these accounts are worth money on the black market. As the report explains, even if a compromised account isn’t used to book travel or flush with points, the accounts themselves are sold in aggregate as a product on the criminal black market.
Akamai researchers found that hotel rewards accounts with 40,000 points reap somewhere around $30 each on the Dark Web, while complete travel packages worth $2,000 to consumers go for $736 to the criminals.
According to the recent “Fraud Attack Index” released by Forter last month, loyalty fraud itself has dropped significantly — by 67% — this year due to the impact of COVID-19 on travel and commerce purchasing patterns. However, as Forter analysts explained, cybercriminal interest in account takeovers within rewards accounts remain high.
“Fraudsters are breaching accounts and stealing personal data, using this time to ‘age’ the accounts they steal,” the Forter report explains. “They are taking the time to build the account’s reputation, making it more difficult for rules-based systems or manual review teams to detect a hacked account from a legitimate one.”
This explains Akamai’s observation that during Q1 2020 criminals ratcheted up their pressure on loyalty programs, circulating dozens of password combination lists and targeting the affected industries.
“It was during this time that criminals started recirculating old credential lists in an effort to identify new vulnerable accounts, leading to an uptick in sales related to loyalty programs,” the report states.
Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading. View Full Bio