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Is In-Flight Wi-Fi Now Threatened by Terrorists?

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 59 comments

Bomb scare turns renews questions of wireless devices while in flight.

In-flight Wi-Fi is a modern wonder. In an age where electronics are suspiciously inspected in airports, getting to access the internet while at higher than 30,000 feet seems like a small miracle. That's why Virgin America is one of the preferred ways to fly here at Tom's, but sadly the wonders of Wi-Fi on a plane could be threatened by paranoia over terrorism.

New Scientist believes that recent laser printer cartridge bomb that had travelled undetected on aircraft to the UK and to Dubai, but luckily went undetonated, could stir reasons for a further clamp down on wireless electronics in air travel.

The bombs were hooked up to cell phones, but they did not contain SIM cards, making them useless for making or receiving calls. This nearly rules out that the phones would use cell technology to activate the explosives.

What the discovery could do, however, is stall or even kill off the development and adoption of wireless device use while in flight. For gadget lovers, it would be a case where the terrorists win.

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Top Comments
  • 30 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2010 2:37 AM
    People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.
  • 18 Hide
    Crashman , November 8, 2010 3:01 AM
    rohitbaranWell, if it is for the sake our lives, we can take the precaution of not using wireless devices in flight.
    Looking at some of the responses, I really have to say that I thought Tom's Hardware readers would be a little more technically competent than, say, the FAA.

    Bomb makers don't look for the most technologically advanced detonation method, they look for the easiest and most concealable method. That would usually be a timer.

    If you're going to go by air signals to pick a place for the explosion, one of the easiest ways would be to trip the trigger either when the plain exits cell range (exploding on the way out of the airport) or when it enters cell range near landing.

    Relying on the onboard WiFi would be a far more complicated and less reliable trigger method. The only reason someone would go to those extra lengths is to prove they could. I don't see terrorist giving up a "sure kill" in an effort to prove their technical proficiency
  • 17 Hide
    thorkle , November 8, 2010 3:53 AM
    otacon72You can fly on the plane where people don't pass through any security...I'll stick with the TSA. Let me know where to send flowers for your funeral. What an ignorant statement since the TSA didn't handle any of the items involved. Don't like the TSA don't fly. Flying isn't a right it's a privilege.

    Actually flying is a service that you pay for.
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    Darkerson , November 8, 2010 2:11 AM
    Its just sad that its come down to this. Having to worry about some selfish prick using random electronics to make a damn bomb and then trying to detonate it on a plane, killing an untold amount of innocent people because he/she has a chip on their shoulder. Luckily, that didnt happen here, but still, it just plain sucks that this is the kind of stuff, among other things, that we have to worry about if we want to fly.
  • 11 Hide
    cashews , November 8, 2010 2:14 AM
    That really sucks
  • 12 Hide
    nebun , November 8, 2010 2:19 AM
    if it meant my life then i can do without wifi for a few hours, it's not the end of the world
  • 15 Hide
    shadowamazon , November 8, 2010 2:27 AM
    You think this will Stop someone from pulling out a cell phone and turning it on? Get real
  • 30 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2010 2:37 AM
    People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.
  • 18 Hide
    Crashman , November 8, 2010 3:01 AM
    rohitbaranWell, if it is for the sake our lives, we can take the precaution of not using wireless devices in flight.
    Looking at some of the responses, I really have to say that I thought Tom's Hardware readers would be a little more technically competent than, say, the FAA.

    Bomb makers don't look for the most technologically advanced detonation method, they look for the easiest and most concealable method. That would usually be a timer.

    If you're going to go by air signals to pick a place for the explosion, one of the easiest ways would be to trip the trigger either when the plain exits cell range (exploding on the way out of the airport) or when it enters cell range near landing.

    Relying on the onboard WiFi would be a far more complicated and less reliable trigger method. The only reason someone would go to those extra lengths is to prove they could. I don't see terrorist giving up a "sure kill" in an effort to prove their technical proficiency
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2010 3:03 AM
    A person doesn't need wifi to communicate from the passenger compartment to the cargo hold. A pair of $20 FRS radios will do just fine, and with a lot less technology than designing something that has to talk IP over wireless.
  • 3 Hide
    dogman_1234 , November 8, 2010 3:08 AM
    Here is an idea:

    Get rid of the TSA, have people be their own TSA, like what happened on Christmas Day to the idiot and his underpants! :lol: 
  • 9 Hide
    gto930 , November 8, 2010 3:28 AM
    or faraday cage the cargo hold?
  • 1 Hide
    iamtheking123 , November 8, 2010 3:52 AM
    gto930or just faraday cage the cargo hold

    Probably the best idea...just put EM shielding on the entire cargo hold so you can't use any form of wireless communication to/from it.

    And yes, from an Elec Eng perspective it wouldn't be too difficult to design a bomb trigger system that would use Wifi to connect to the internet and check a "should I blow up now?" server every few minutes. But you could just as easily use a sat phone for the trigger and avoid a ton of potential complications from wifi (like a login redirect screen).
  • 17 Hide
    thorkle , November 8, 2010 3:53 AM
    otacon72You can fly on the plane where people don't pass through any security...I'll stick with the TSA. Let me know where to send flowers for your funeral. What an ignorant statement since the TSA didn't handle any of the items involved. Don't like the TSA don't fly. Flying isn't a right it's a privilege.

    Actually flying is a service that you pay for.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2010 4:22 AM
    If they ban airlines from providing Wi-Fi in flight they will only penalize the law abiding citizens. Terrorists will simply use their phone, ipad or laptop to do whatever they want regardless of the fact that there is a law against it. The only way to prevent it is to not allow any passenger to board with equipment that is capable of wireless communication. The fact that the plane provides Wi-Fi service does not make the plane any more vulnerable than if that service was not provided.
  • 5 Hide
    alidan , November 8, 2010 4:24 AM
    otacon72You can fly on the plane where people don't pass through any security...I'll stick with the TSA. Let me know where to send flowers for your funeral. What an ignorant statement since the TSA didn't handle any of the items involved. Don't like the TSA don't fly. Flying isn't a right it's a privilege.


    i hate it when people say crap like that.
    its not a right, its also not a privilege, its a means of transportation.
    this means of transportation, however, is regulated strictly by the government, and people screw it up more by how paranoid they are.

    you give me a compeditive airline, that only has bag checks, 1 metal detector and a second hand held one for people who fail number 1, with people watching for people who look like they are up to no good, and i will fly with them in a hear beat, you get your nude photos taken and everything but a cavity search (unless they suspect drugs are in you) and people feeling you or your kids up as much as you want, if thats what it takes for you to feel safe (pro tip: if they people what to hurt you, they will, and no amount of security shy of flying nude and xrayed will prevent this) with extra emphasis on the word FEEL
  • 1 Hide
    dogman_1234 , November 8, 2010 4:32 AM
    otacon72You can fly on the plane where people don't pass through any security...I'll stick with the TSA. Let me know where to send flowers for your funeral. What an ignorant statement since the TSA didn't handle any of the items involved. Don't like the TSA don't fly. Flying isn't a right it's a privilege.


    DRIVING is a privilege.
  • 1 Hide
    d_kuhn , November 8, 2010 4:39 AM
    spikethethinmanA person doesn't need wifi to communicate from the passenger compartment to the cargo hold. A pair of $20 FRS radios will do just fine, and with a lot less technology than designing something that has to talk IP over wireless.


    I think what they're worried about is some intelligent device connecting to the plane wi-fi so it can be controlled over the internet - not by a person in the plane. It would be a bit tricky since the device would have to "subscribe" to the service and pay with a credit card... but it wouldn't be impossible.
  • 4 Hide
    bdonedge , November 8, 2010 5:38 AM
    I am so sick of the word "terrorist". Titles of articles like this are used to strike fear, which by definition, is what a terrorist does. The actions people think about when the media throws around the word terrorist, aren't labeled correctly. It should be radicals of "insert religion/group". Media = terrorists
  • 0 Hide
    joytech22 , November 8, 2010 6:24 AM
    They could make it so you can only call out from the plane and not receive, but i bet there are other good ideas i mean, besides killing wireless in the air.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2010 7:55 AM
    I am amazed that nobody has mentioned the reason why these "bombs" didnt go off. THEY WERENT BOMBS. The police investigating said so themselves, no explosive materials. 20minutes later Obama goes on TV talking about the explosives found and all of a sudden they are actual bombs with explosives in them.

    I trust the people on the scene rather than somebody who has gotten to where he is today by lieing.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2010 8:50 AM
    Everyone is forgetting rule #1. A wifi will need authentication before it connects to the access point. I don't know about you, but the "wifi trigger" will first need to get internet access, instead of just being stuck at the proxy server prompt... "Enter your credit card info here:".

    Capitalism foils all the best plans.
    :-p
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