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Saturday, 08 September 2018 09:31

Researcher says BA changed site JavaScript code a day before hack Featured

Mustafa Al-Bassam: "British Airways says they'll never proactively request customer's confidential information, yet they publicly do so all the time over Twitter." Mustafa Al-Bassam: "British Airways says they'll never proactively request customer's confidential information, yet they publicly do so all the time over Twitter."

A well-known security researcher claims that, between 20 July and 20 August, British Airways changed the third-party JavaScript code it loads on its website as a result of a privacy complaint he had made.

Mustafa Al-Bassam, a doctoral researcher in the UK and a former black hat hacker with LulzSec, said in a tweet: "On the 21st, they were breached, which many think may be a result of hostile third-party code."

Bassam's revelation came a day after BA disclosed that it had been hacked and the personal and financial details of 380,000 customers had been stolen.

He said he had lodged a complaint with BA under the EU General Data Protection Regulation over its leaking of customer booking data to Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others without consent.

Bassam had tweeted on 18 July that the airline only allowed online check-ins after adblockers were disabled in a user's browser "so that they can leak your booking details to tons of third-party advertisers and trackers, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Google DoubleClick".

He received a response to his complaint a few weeks ago and said he was writing about it only because BA had announced the breach.

" the email [about] the data breach that they sent to customers, British Airways says they'll never proactively request customer's confidential information, yet they publicly do so all the time over Twitter to 'comply with GDPR'. It's ripe for fraud," Bassam said.

In BA's reply to his complaint, it had claimed that the cookie disclaimer and privacy policy that users agreed to when visiting the airline's website was a means of asking for consent to share the user's data with third parties. " That's bullshit – GDPR requires *explicit* and *distinguishable* consent," he said.

BA had also said in the response that he could opt-out of sharing his data with third parties for advertising purposes by "using my Web browser settings".

"That's a lie, it's impossible for there to be a client-side setting that prevents the server from doing things with your data," said Bassam.

He said the data provided to him by BA in response to his subject access request did not include "the parties that they leaked my data to, which I have evidence of them doing so in the screenshots before, so I know for a fact that they have failed to respond fully to my request".

Bassam said he intended to file a follow-up complaint with the British Information Commissioner's Office about the "unconsensual leakage of booking information to third parties... when I get around to it".

Contacted for comment, a British Airways spokesperson told iTWire about the claim by Bassam that the airline had changed JavaScript on the site immediately before the breach as a result of his complaint: "We regularly review and update all areas of our website,, to ensure the best possible experience for our customers."

Regarding the airline's cookies policy, the spokesperson said: "We are transparent with customers about our cookie terms and conditions, and always ask them to review the details before choosing whether to accept or opt out."

iTWire understands that as the investigation is now a criminal inquiry, BA is cautious about commenting on speculation about what led to the breach.

The spokesperson also said that cookies were common to most websites, and there was no legal obligation for websites to allow customers to manage their marketing settings within the site itself. "Ad-blockers, which disable trackers, can be used without any impact on website functionality," the spokesperson said.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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