Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

Summary: Following last week's incident in which packages containing explosives were found on an airplane, more questions are being raised about security - particularly about in-flight Wi-Fi.

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Following last week's incident in which packages containing explosives were found on an airplane, more questions are being raised about security - particularly about in-flight Wi-Fi.

According to GigaOm via The New York Times, the explosive materials hidden in printer cartridges in the aforementioned incident included cell phone materials that could have been used as detonators. Thus, phones could also be put to use as remote detonators when connected over VoIP or even in-flight Wi-Fi networks.

So could we be nearing the end of the short life of in-flight Wi-Fi service? Hopefully and probably not - at least just yet. There are already some boundaries put in place, such as firewalls that block in-bound calls. In-flight Wi-Fi isn't free either as it requires the use of a valid credit card.

I'd be more interested in seeing more resources used towards monitoring items that go in the cargo hold than taking away what seems to be the only (albeit, not free) perk of flying these days. Based on the incident last week, it is obvious that extra security measures like that are necessary.

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Topics: Security, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

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19 comments
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  • Americans are so reactionary when it comes to security

    Someone could have used a radio device to detonate a bomb so we need to ban wifi? Are you serious? <br><br>Did we ban shoes after the failed shoe bomber?<br><br>Like it or not, security is about profiling. If you profile, you violate the rights of a small segment of people. If you don't, then you violate the freedoms of even more people.
    croberts
    • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

      @croberts You should think your statement out Shoes cannot set a bomb off. But cell phones can.
      lamalchi
  • Far-fetched in the extreme

    So, an airborne bomb could be detonated with a cellphone signal while it's on a transatlantic flight? Gee, I wish I could get coverage like that! Either there is a lot of fiction in these press releases, or there are some clueless terrorists out there. I suspect both cases are true.<br><br>In any case, to use in-flight wireless you would be talking about a complicated lashup that would require a very sophisticated programming effort and a high degree of variability/uncertainty. The opportunity for failure is so high that it would not be worth the time and effort with much simpler options available.
    terry flores
    • Re: Far-fetched in the extreme

      @terry flores

      If my cell phone can get an IP address from a WiFi router, my laptop can talk to my cell phone on that same WiFi network. It's not like I have to place a call any more. Suicide bombers have so many more options available to them than other run-of-the-mill terrorists who want to live.
      TwoFactor
      • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

        Yeah, you don't need a cell connection for WiFi. The aircraft accesses the net via satellite or ground stations and provides it to the passengers via WiFi. You'd just need a device that could access WiFi -- the terrorists could set off the bomb by clicking on a button at an Internet Cafe on the other side of the world.
        chuckc192000
  • Typical Over-reaction without thought

    Easy solution. Put security on the wifi network in the plane. I'm assuming it is an open network, because if the key was randomly generated at takeoff, there would be no way to "pre-program" the key into the phone being used as a detonation device. If they can communicate with the device to attach it to the in-flight network, they don't need the in-flight network to communicate, so it becomes a moot point.
    Ah well, I guess the easiest solutions are the most difficult to see...
    ExploreMN
  • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

    if you are worried about someone inside the plane setting off bombs in the cargo hold, you have already lost the fight.....
    jvandiveer@...
  • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

    @TwoFactor
    If it's a suicide bomber on the plain, they can use an ad hoc connnection. They don't need the wifi connection offered by the plane. Then again, they could just use a classic radio detonator. So, in that instance, wifi service to the customers doesn't matter.

    @anyone else
    We tracked Bin Laden on a sat phone for years. We know terrorists have access to sat phones. Sat phones work on airplanes. For that matter, barometers will work in the luggage compartments, so why everyone is getting in a huff about manual activation of remote detonators in the first place is beyond me.
    tkejlboom
  • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

    How crazy does this sound when the flights that the packages were on were not Commercial flights at all they were UPS shipments let alone they were clock detonated mechanism. This is just how things get so blown out of proportion by the media and cost Americans time and money for nothing.
    bham4ever
    • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

      @bham4ever

      Sooo, it's OK if a bunch of FedEx or UPS workers lose their lives and the millions of dollars lost in any aircraft disaster involving a large aircraft. I guess from your prose they neve fly over a populated area. Either that or you don't care about a million of so killed and maimed when a large craft blows up in the air and covers several square miles of a city with fuel and shredded metal. You are myopic and short sighted in your thinking if you truly believe what you wrote. Since it doesn't matter, I'll hope for the next disaster to take you out right along with it, OK? After all, life has no value to certain ways of thinking with the head in the sane.
      Sorry if that comes off too strong, but ... it just feels like such a nonsensical post from what should be a thinking person.
      anonymous
      • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

        @twaynesdomain
        I think you completely missed the point that bham4ever was trying to make which is that there are lots of simple options for activating a detonating mechanism, e.g. timers, barometers, GPS locators, walkies-talkies, etc. Sure we need to have some kind of security on an airline wi-fi (which shouldn't be a huge problem), but we also need better inspection and intelligence approaches to foil low-tech bomb systems.
        ssekdad
      • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

        @twaynesdomain

        Uh, the article is about wifi on passenger flights! bham4ever is arguing that making new rules for passenger flights is a stupid way to protect air freight. He's mostly right. The problem is that passenger flights often carry small amounts of air freight. So, while it was UPS and FedEx, some of the packages were on passenger planes. Still, his general argument is right, restricting wifi access on passenger flights is an absurd way to keep a bomb from detonating on a UPS plane.
        tkejlboom
      • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

        @twaynesdomain

        The difference isn't who the people are, but how many. The media and govt's sensationalism and knee-jerk reactions tend to lead the public to believe the incident actually involved commercial passenger airliners, not cargo jets, implying a more significant potential threat to human lives than it actually is/was.

        Also, how many times have you seen (or heard of) ANYTHING exploding over ANYWHERE that killed and/or maimed anywhere near a million people? FYI: The deadliest aircraft incident in history involved TWO loaded 747s and killed 583 people. An incident would have to be 2000x more destructive to get the numbers you propose. The Hiroshima A-bomb killed upwards of 250,000, still only a quarter of your number.

        Perhaps it would be best if you keep your judgments to yourself. Those who live in glass houses, and all.

        Peace and blessings. Namaste.

        ~Peace Hemp
        Peace Hemp
      • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

        @twaynesdomain did you use a flashlight when writing that, locked in your closet? You stink of fear. Bin Laden has already beaten you, has he beaten the rest of America has yet to be seen. Here is a nice quote to keep you warm and fuzzy tonight, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin Now grow a pair
        trust2112@...
  • Airplane wifi is poorly implemented, though

    It's absurd that airline wifi isn't segregated into VLANs and encrypted. It's not like people are joining with high end laptops to play on LANs or something. DD-wrt allows you to configure a $50 switch to do that for free.
    tkejlboom
  • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

    What caught my eye is that a 1980 film called 'Airplane' is now the correct spelling in US English for 'Aeroplane' (rest of the world English). ;)
    EvilHomer
  • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

    If you want to blowup a jet in midair, just ask the Kadafi. See Lockabee over Scotland. Wi-fi or not it won't stop them.
    bobmatch@...
  • Wi-Fi is very safe on planes

    I can't think of any situation where Wi-Fi would create an aircraft security risk.

    We may be getting a bit over-zealous with airport security.
    Vbitrate
  • RE: Airplane security raises questions about in-flight Wi-Fi

    How bout something simple. Shield the cargo bay? How bout jamming signals in the cargo bay? This would fix the wifi and cell phone problems together.
    rewand