Friday July 17, 2015

United Airlines gives hacker free flights and reward miles for finding flaws

(twitter / cpimages)

Listen 7:33

Jordan Wiens is a hacker. But not the kind that seeks to cause havoc or who steals information. Instead, he found flaws in the United Airlines online system. Now, he's being rewarded by the airline with free air miles.

Earlier this month, he found a bug that earned him one million reward miles from United Airlines. Yesterday, the airline rewarded him with another 250,000 miles for a second bug he discovered. 

It's part of a new incentive program that rewards hackers for hunting down security flaws.

He tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch, "The companies themselves benefit. The individuals finding the flaws benefit. And the public as a whole benefits, because they're getting a safer experience online as a result."

According to Wiens, these types of programs, called "bug bounties," are gaining in popularity. But, this is the first time a major airline has gone ahead with one. Wiens thinks it's a positive evolution in the world of hacking. "Now there are legitimate avenues. [It used to be that] if you liked this kind of thing, there weren't a lot of legal outlets."

It's important for legitimate hackers to refrain from crossing into illegal territory. "It can be a little tricky to know where the lines are drawn," says Wiens. "You have to understand and be careful if you're ever exploring these things." 

Wiens says he is considering using the free miles to splurge on a round-the-world plane ticket.

Have a listen to our full interview with Jordan Wiens.