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United Airlines Hacks Into Co-CreationNovember - 2015

Data Security and CoCreation

Crime doesn’t pay.

But co-creation does.

Two computer hackers recently discovered as much when United Airlines paid them each a million frequent-flier miles for identifying security holes in its computer systems as part of one of the most intriguing co-creation initiatives we’ve heard about. After all, it’s not often that you hear about a global airline and outside hackers working together as one.

But sometimes co-creation can make for curious, yet beneficial, bedfellows.

As Inc. Magazine explains, it’s not uncommon in the tech world for companies to enlist so-called “white-hat” hackers to spot security gaps before cybercriminals use them to steal customer data or crash websites.

In fact, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all publish “bug bounty” rules on their websites, while Facebook goes as far as to ask hackers for “reasonable time” before going public with their security findings. Mark Zuckerburg & Co. even promise not to sue or call law enforcement if the hackers do their best to avoid privacy violations and service interruptions while conducting their, ahem, “research.”

What’s less common to see, however, is transportation companies adopting such measures to co-create with hackers in order to tackle computer system flaws. But after suffering several major problems with its technology systems since 2012, when it switched passenger reservations and other systems over, following its merger with Continental Airlines — including a serious breach by hackers tied to China just this spring – United has indeed gotten on board with the idea.

CoCreation in the Friendly Skies


According to company spokesman, Luke Punzenberger, the airline launched a security program in May through which it paid two individuals the maximum award of 1 million miles apiece – enough for several first-class trips to Asia or up to 20 round-trip flights in the U.S. – for identifying system weak spots, while other hackers got smaller rewards.

In effect, the airline worked with its own customers to find new ways to beef up security. And while we don’t necessarily encourage brands to team up with hackers, United’s example is still a powerful reminder that your customer base might offer more ideas, ingenuity, and energy that you ever could have imagined.

Think about how you can tap into that via co-creation.

To learn more about the AE CoCreation Lab Series™ and what it can do for your company, simply click here.

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