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BA Security Fallout

A discovery of the file containing the code used in the recent hack of the British Airways website and app that affected 380,000 transactions has revealed that it only took 22 lines of JavaScript to cause the massive data breach.


The hack that took place on 21st August and caused disruption into September is now believed to be down to the injection of a digital skimming file designed to steal financial data from the online payment forms of BA’s website and app. The small skimming file, which was discovered by a cyber-security firm RiskIQ, was used to grab data from BA’s online payment form and then send it to the hacker’s server when the customer hit the ‘submit’ button.


The researcher concluded that this was a highly targeted attack where the malicious page in the app was built using the same components as the real website, thereby giving a very close match to the design and functionality of the real thing.

The RiskIQ researcher has described the 22 line digital skimming file implanted by the hackers as “simple but effective”.

Magecart Suspected

The finger of suspicion is now being pointed at a group of hacking operatives known as Magecart. The suspicion is based upon a close match with their modus operandi as highlighted in a recent attack on the Ticketmaster websites where Madgecart also used a similar digital skimmer hidden in a third-party element of the payment process.

More To Come

The attacks on Tacketmaster and BA are believed to be part of a larger campaign by the Magecart hacking group to target big brands, and it is thought, therefore, that more big names will be hitting the headlines soon for data breaches.


According to some security commentators, the weakest link in payment processes is an obvious place for hackers to strike e.g. by putting older systems or third-party code into a payment chain.

The apparent ease of the attack, which led to the theft of names, email addresses and full credit card details, has led to obvious anger from those affected and criticism of BA by security commentators and professionals.

Big Fine Possible Under GDPR

There is now the real possibility that BA could face a massive £500 million fine (4% of global turnover based on 2017) under GDPR, and this breach is believed to be one of the first really big tests of the new law.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though the hackers in this case had gone to great lengths to closely tailor their code to the BA site and used a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate, suggesting a serious level of planning and targeting, it still remains a relatively simple method of attack that has exposed vulnerabilities in the payment systems of a big company. The dependable image of BA, the fact that it is such a big brand, and the scale and scope of the theft have caused shock and anger among customers, and there will undoubtedly be substantial costs to BA’s finances and reputation.

As some security commentators have pointed out, there are ways to preventing third-party code taking data from sensitive web pages, and BA should really have been wise to this. In BA’s defence, even encryption of data used in the payment system would not have been effective because the data was intercepted before it had reached the company’s servers.

One positive thing to be taken from this case is that it has alerted more companies to the possibility of this kind of attack, thereby giving them time to build-in defences against it.