The End of In-Flight Wi-Fi? Oh, Come On

By  |  Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 8:50 am

Aircraft bomb finds may spell end for in-flight Wi-Fi.” That’s the headline on a New Scientist story about last week’s discovery of bombs packed into laser-printer cartridges which were sent from Yemen and apparently intended to blow up airplanes. The point of the story is that terrorists might use in-flight Wi-Fi to communicate from the ground with a cell phone that had been rigged to trigger a bomb aboard a plane, a possibility so risky that it might lead to the abolishing of in-flight Wi-Fi, period.

The article doesn’t really live up to the headline: The closest it gets to evidence that Wi-Fi “may” be banned is a reference to an alarmed explosives expert saying it might be too dangerous.

Seems like a ludicrous overreaction to me. The in-air Wi-Fi I’ve used–Gogo–requires the user to log in and enter a CAPTCHA, and while I don’t discount the possibility of terrorists being smart enough to build a Wi-Fi-based bomb triggering device that can autonomously log into an in-flight network designed to be accessed by humans, it seems like it would require an awful lot of work on their part. Wouldn’t a plain old-fashioned timer produce much the same results with far less effort and technical knowledge required, and less likelihood that the device would fail or be detected?

Remember when a bunch of news organizations suggested that laptops might be banned from airplanes, period? Let’s hope this theory is just as solid as that one…



7 Comments For This Post

  1. John Baxter Says:

    While nothing is too dumb for the TSA, this seems unlikely. Congress critters fly in airplanes.

  2. Marc Arbesman Says:

    "it seems like it would require an awful lot of work on their part. " I think this is an ignorant statement. If they want to use the Wi-Fi to detonate a bomb, they will.

  3. jltnol Says:

    The epitome of Fear Uncertainty and Doubt!

  4. joe c Says:

    As anyone who has used airplane Wi-Fi knows, we're in no danger of a reliable signal even making it there.

  5. jb8 Says:

    If they wanted to detonate a bomb in-flight, they would use a barometric trigger, which, incidentally, would cost about a cent and not require a team of compsci M.Sc.'s.

    If they get a bomb on board undetected, you've already lost, whether they're able to successfully utilize Wi-Fi as a vector to trigger or the myriad other options.

  6. Brian Says:

    Funny… I didn’t know that cargo planes had on-board Wi-Fi.

    In the case of passenger aircraft, unless the bomb somehow made its way into an innocent’s baggage, then the bomber would have to be on the plane as well. It’s called passenger-baggage reconciliation. In that case, any number of radio triggers could be used. If it’s done via Wi-Fi, it could be done with an ad-hoc network.

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