Hackers reverse-engineer Ticketmaster’s barcode system to unlock resales on other platforms

It appears to work with AXS, too.


Scalpers have used a security researcher’s findings to reverse-engineer “nontransferable” digital tickets from Ticketmaster and AXS, allowing transfers outside their apps. The workaround was revealed in a lawsuit AXS filed in May against third-party brokers adopting the practice, according to 404 Media, which first reported the news.

The saga began in February when an anonymous security researcher, going by the pseudonym Conduition, published technical details about how Ticketmaster generates its electronic tickets. If you aren’t already familiar with how modern e-ticketing systems work, Ticketmaster and AXS lock ticket resales inside their platforms, preventing transfers on third-party services like SeatGeek and StubHub. (For higher-priority events, they often take it a step further by prohibiting transfers to other accounts on the same platform.)

Although the companies claim the practice is strictly a security measure, it also conveniently allows them to control how and when their tickets are resold. (Yay, capitalism?)

Side-by-side phone screenshots of the Ticketmaster app showing event barcodes.
Side-by-side phone screenshots of the Ticketmaster app showing event barcodes. (Ticketmaster)

Ticketmaster and AXS create their “nontransferable” tickets using rotating barcodes that change every few seconds, preventing working screenshots or printouts. On the back end, it uses similar underlying tech similar to two-factor authentication apps. In addition, the codes are only generated shortly before an event starts, limiting the window for sharing them outside the apps. Without interference from outside parties, the platforms get to lock ticket buyers into their own resale services, giving them vertical control of the entire ecosystem.

That’s where the hackers come in. Using Conduition’s published findings, they extracted the platforms’ secret tokens that generate new tickets, using an Android phone with its Chrome browser connected to Chrome DevTools on a desktop PC. Using the tokens, they create a parallel ticketing infrastructure that regenerates genuine barcodes on other platforms, allowing them to sell working tickets on platforms Ticketmaster and AXS don’t allow. Online reports claim the parallel tickets often work at the gates.

According to 404 Media, AXS’ lawsuit accuses the defendants of selling “counterfeit” tickets (even though they usually work) to “unsuspecting customers.” The court documents allegedly describe the parallel tickets as “created, in whole or in part by one or more of the Defendants illicitly accessing and then mimicking, emulating, or copying tickets from the AXS Platform.”

AXS’ lawsuit claims the company doesn’t know how the hackers are doing it. The promise of essentially jailbreaking Ticketmaster is so lucrative that several brokers have reportedly tried hiring Conduition to help them build their own parallel ticket-generating platforms. Services already operating on the researcher’s findings go by names like Secure.Tickets, Amosa App, Virtual Barcode Distribution and Verified-Ticket.com.

404 Media’s entire story is worth reading. More technically minded folks may take an interest in Conduition’s earlier findings, which illustrate what the ticketing behemoths are doing on their back ends to keep the entire ecosystems in their clutches.