Securing Flight Data in Your Travel Applications

Hey readers, I know you‘re eager to leverage flight data APIs to create amazing travel apps and websites. But before jumping in, we need to have a serious chat about API security.

As an application security guru who has consulted various travel companies, I‘ve seen disturbing data breaches that could have been prevented. The sad truth is that most developers don‘t realize the security risks of opening up to flight data APIs.

This in-depth guide will give you the insider knowledge to keep your application and users safe. I‘ll share:

  • Security profiles of popular flight API providers
  • Best practices for integration and ops security
  • Real-world examples of flight API breaches

Let‘s get started, shall we?

Why Flight API Security Matters More Than Ever

First, let‘s get on the same page about the growing reliance on flight data APIs across the travel industry:

  • Skyscanner reports 63% annual growth in adoption of their flight search API
  • Cirium saw 100+ new customers onboarded last year as airlines tapped dynamic data APIs
  • Aviationstack claims usage of their flight status API grew 500% during pandemic disruptions

As adoption grows exponentially, so does the attack surface for potential data theft and system exploitation.

APIs act as bridges that conveniently connect your applications to upstream data sources. But that convenience can lull developers into a false sense of security.

Bridge analogy for flight data API risks

You assume the API provider has locked down infrastructure and secured contracts with suppliers. But what about your obligation to validate their security posture? Do you audit how the data is handled once piping into your systems?

The stakes couldn‘t be higher, with direct access to sensitive customer data at play. Let‘s explore specific API security considerations.

Key Variables in Flight API Security

All API providers have security measures in place, but approach aspects like encryption, monitoring, access controls differently:


  • Validates transport security to prevent spoofing attacks
  • Industry standard is TLS 1.2+ for encrypting traffic


  • Certifications (ISO, SOC2) show external validation
  • Indicates controls for security, privacy, business continuity


  • API keys verify approved apps and meter usage
  • Some offer IP whitelisting for additional protection

Access Controls

  • Fine-grained controls dictate what apps can do
  • Prevents misuse of data in flawed integrations


  • Alerting suspicious spikes in traffic volumes
  • Response plans for security events and outages

Now let‘s see how major flight API vendors stack up on these aspects.

Flight Data API Security Compared

Provider Encryption Compliance Authentication Access Controls Monitoring
AviationStack TLS 1.2 ISO 27001 API Keys Role-based uptime monitoring
FlightAware TLS 1.3 Customers audited annually API Keys, IP Whitelist Granular rule-based SIEM alerting
Skyscanner TLS 1.2 SOC 2 Type 2 OAuth 2.0 By data object 24/7 security monitoring
OpenSky Network TLS 1.2 None API Keys Coarse-grained Minimal
Cirium TLS 1.2 SOC 2 Type 2 API Keys, Credentials Role-based Physical + systems monitoring

As you can see, commercial providers like FlightAware and Cirium lead on security posture over hobbyist platforms like OpenSky Network. But surprisingly, some major consumer flight sites have breaches via APIs:

  • EasyJet hack exposed 9 million customers‘ data in 2020 through an API gateway
  • Emirates had internal flight data accessed in 2021 later sold via Telegram channels

So it‘s not enough to trust size or brand recognition when it comes to flight API security. Do your own due diligence.

Specialized Flight Data Sources Worth Exploring

The flight API space extends beyond the well-known players covered earlier. Startups are addressing niche aviation data needs relevant to security:

Aireon‘s ADS-B Network

  • Space-based global flight tracking leveraging satellites
  • Monitors proper broadcasts to detect signal tampering

SERA Flight Inspector API

  • Analyzes black box flight data for incident investigation
  • Helpful for insider threat monitoring of aircraft ops

Both provide capabilities to enhance security around flight operations data, detection, and response. But newer platforms also pose risks if not fully vetted around information governance.

Best Practices for Secure Flight API Integration

So by this point, I hope I‘ve convinced you to take flight API security seriously in your development approach. Here are pro tips to apply:

Limit data ingress

  • Only pipe the exact flight data fields needed
  • Don‘t blindly expose everything externally

Validate payloads

  • Check for malicious code piggybacking as inputs
  • Script routine schema validation checks

Rate limit requests

  • Prevents brute force attacks leading to denial of service
  • Most APIs enable this in configuration

Monitor activity logs

  • Inspect for anomalies indicating compromised keys
  • Know which users/apps are accessing data

Isolate API gateways

  • Segment apps to limit lateral access internally
  • Lock down databases and s3 buckets

Mask sensitive data displays

  • Tokenize passenger names, itineraries early
  • Apply context-based access rules

Conduct recurring audits

  • Revalidate security posture as partnerships evolve
  • Press vendors on problems uncovered

Enrich alerts with flight data

  • Cross-reference threat intel with passenger manifests
  • Speed accurate response when incidents occur

The Future of Flight APIs: Balancing Security and Openness

In closing, I want to discuss the big picture trends at play between openness and security around flight data APIs.

On one hand, regulators and consumers want more transparency from airlines after trust failures like the Boeing 737 MAX crashes. This leads to pressure for greater open data access.

But the industry experienced over 1,300 cybersecurity incidents last year according to IATA. So leaders are rightfully concerned about unbridled connectivity.

My prediction is airlines will invest more in centralized data platforms like Caravelo to securely federate authorized access across partners. Sophisticated security controls can enable openness while protecting the business.

The future of flight innovation relies on that delicate balance. As an application developer, be a good steward securing your part of the equation. Taking the initiative to have an honest dialogue with API partners now can prevent the next big headline breach.

Stay vigilant out there! Please reach out if you ever want to chat 1:1 about flight data security.

Independent Application Security Consultant