Security Tips for Using WiFi on Planes

Most people who avail of the WiFi that is offered on planes assume that it is safe. In-flight WiFi is different from free public WiFi, but can still be dangerous to use if you do not know its vulnerabilities. Fortunately, in-flight WiFi users can follow the tips provided below to better secure their online sessions. Know what you are getting into before you start taking advantage of the service!

In-flight WiFi Vulnerabilities

Using WiFi on planes is most dangerous because there is normally no encryption applied to secure the connection to the wireless access point. You may be able to pay for your consumable hours securely through encrypted payment gateways, but after this you are left completely open to any hackers that might be on the flight with you. This leaves you vulnerable to all manner of attacks since a hacker can easily gain access to whatever device you are using. Everything that you have stored on that device can therefore be seen and manipulated by the attacker.

Granted, these connections tens of thousands of feet in the air may seem relatively safe in comparison to WiFi hotspots on the ground. But let’s examine this. First, there are so many hacking tools available online that almost anyone who is pretty good with a computer can become a hacker. These days, that’s almost everyone, including elementary school kids – remember that 7-year-old girl who cracked a WiFi hotspot in under 10 minutes? Second, air travel is so popular and relatively inexpensive these days. There are a lot of potential victims up there, and hackers can easily board flights and make back their fare several times over with the information that they are able to steal from all the passengers using the WiFi. It’s a very good deal for them, especially since public hotspot users on the ground have quickly learned how to secure their devices with VPN services.

Take note also that a US Government Accountability Office recently admitted that commercial flights may be open to in-flight hacks. Their worry is not focused on businessmen losing their sensitive files and such. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of aircraft avionics systems to remote access hacks can put every person on a flight in danger. So far, these hacks are not as likely as device hacks, however, since flight navigation does not use the same operating systems. Autopilot is vulnerable, but tests show that the pilot will prevail.

Preparing to Use In-flight WiFi

If you must use in-flight WiFi, make sure that your devices are prepared for it. First, you need to have strong passwords on all your online accounts, which you should do anyway under any circumstance. Make sure that all the devices that you plan to use have been updated and are properly secured by professional firewalls, antivirus and antimalware suites. If you do not have strong protection, your money, identity, communications, browsing and more will be accessible to hackers.

Before you turn on your device’s WiFi, check that Bluetooth and file sharing are off. Then check the network name to be certain that it is the correct one. Some hackers may be able to clone the connection to attract more users, especially since these cloned networks will be available for free. Use a VPN if you have one, but take note of the caveats below.

Once you are online, stick to websites that offer HTTPS so that you can be assured of an encrypted connection. Avoid doing financial transactions and other sensitive tasks until you are on a better secured network. If you must work, it is safer to take copies of sensitive documents on a flash drive rather than access them from the cloud. Make sure, however, that the documents are encrypted. When you are done surfing, make sure you forget the in-flight network and turn off your device’s WiFi. If you are going back online, it s still safer to re-enter the details.

VPNs May Not Always Work in the Air

Airline WiFi allows VPN connections, so air passengers can always choose to use their VPNs while in flight. But this does not mean that users will always be able to connect or maintain a connection to a VPN server. Because the aircraft is moving very quickly and due to other conditions in the air, the connection is not stable. Having a VPN with a kill switch is a very good idea, but this can also make using the Internet under these conditions a tedious task.

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