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Is In-Flight Wi-Fi Safe?

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

In-flight Wi-Fi offers a great way to remain connected and be productive while travelling long distances. While earlier there were strict restrictions regarding the use of electronic devices while flying, they have been relaxed considerably in the last few years. Now it is not only possible to make and receive calls while travelling in airplanes but also to connect to the internet on a device of one’s choice from gate-to-gate. A large number of airlines have already started offering internet connectivity in the sky and the day is not far when in-flight Wi-Fi would become commonplace.

While in-flight Wi-Fi is certainly a blessing especially for business travelers, it is not without its flaws. Just like public Wi-Fi networks which are prone to security breaches and hacking attacks, in-flight wireless networks could be abused by the criminals to steal data from fellow travelers. Most air travelers automatically assume that Wi-Fi in an aircraft is safe but from a technical perspective, it is as prone to security breaches as other public Wi-Fi networks. What’s more, long distance flights give sufficient time to criminals to steal data from a large number of people.

Hackers can use a variety of methods to steal data from fellow travelers while in the air. For instance, a criminal can use a tool like WiFi Pineapple, FireEye or Silver Tail to snoop on the online activities of people who get connected to the in-flight Wi-Fi. These tools even allow the hackers to access emails, files, financial details and other sensitive data while travelers connect to their email accounts, shop online, log into their bank accounts or worse access their corporate networks. Savvy criminals can even set up fake wireless networks while in the air thus confusing travelers and making them connect to the deceptive networks designed to steal their personal data.

The dangers associated with in-flight Wi-Fi were revealed to the world when a prominent journalist’s emails were hacked while he was flying. Steven Petrow, who writes articles for Washington Post and USA Today, accessed his work email via the in-flight’s Wi-Fi network during a flight. When the flight landed, he was approached by a fellow traveler who was sitting just behind him in the airplane. The guy revealed that he not only hacked into Steve’s email account and read every mail which he had sent or received, he was also able to hack into other devices that were connected to the flight’s Wi-Fi network.

If you travel a lot and need to use in-flight Wi-Fi on a regular basis then it is best to take precautionary measures before travelling. One of the best ways to prevent criminals from accessing your emails and files in the air is to protect your online activities with a VPN service. Airlines can also improve the security of their in-flight Wi-Fi networks by blocking peer-to-peer traffic and changing the default password of the routers. All in all, air travelers must be aware of the security risks associated with the in-flight Wi-Fi and avoid using it for sensitive activities unless they have VPN protection enabled.

October 6, 2016

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