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Contributor Columns on Information Technology and Security

Five Ways to prevent Airline WiFi from Hackers

When getting on a flight many business professionals connect online. It’s common these days to see a number of people on an airplane busy at their laptops—business-looking people dressed in suits, eyes pasted to spreadsheets, charts, graphs and other grinding tasks.

When getting on a flight many business professionals connect online. It’s common these days to see a number of people on an airplane busy at their laptops—business-looking people dressed in suits, eyes pasted to spreadsheets, charts, graphs and other grinding tasks.

How many know that their company’s data can be snatched out of thin air, literally?

Here’s the thing: If you are connecting to WiFi on a plane and have all these company secrets on your device and all this client data, there is a solid chance you are risking information. Savvy business travelers may not be savvy about security—or, specifically, the lack thereof in airplane WiFi.

When logging onto an airplane WiFi, there isn’t any encryption preventing other users from seeing your data. The majority of the security in airplane WiFi is built into the payment system to protect your credit card. Beyond that, you’re pretty much left to the dogs.

The plane’s WiFi service comes in cheap (something like $12.95), but with a cost: no protection. Other people can see your or your company’s trade secrets and other private information. If the airline boasts there IS security, they mean for your credit card. Not much more.

Another thing travelers usually don’t know is that when they boot up their device, they may be tricked into selecting a particular connection (wireless network), without knowing that this network has been set in place by a hacker, they call this an “evil twin”. If you connect to it, your data is his to see.

GoGo is an in-flight WiFi service that a researcher says was using phony Google SSL certificates that interfered with passengers’ ability to get video streaming services but more alarming it was reported it also allowed data leakage. In short, GoGo made it look like this was coming from Google.

GoGo was called on this. In a report on theregister.co.uk, GoGo’s chief technology officer explains that the company’s feature did not snatch data from passengers, and that it only served the purpose of blocking streaming services. They said that GoGo simply wanted to upgrade network capacity for air travel passengers, and that they don’t support video streaming. Still, not cool.

How can airline passengers protect their data?

  • When you’re not using WiFi, when it’s time to nap or read some nonsense about the Kardashians in a print magazine, go to your wireless manager and disable the WiFi connection with a right-click. Your laptop may also have a keyboard key to do this.
  • If you must absolutely use public Wi-Fi for activities involving highly sensitive information, make sure that the Wi-Fi network is secure and trusted.
  • Before you get onto any website, check the URL field to make sure that there is an “https” (not “http”) AND a padlock icon; these indicate the site is secure. Also check the security certificate.
  • Make sure that every device that you own has full protection such as antivirus and a firewall.
  • You can also use encryption. Encryption scrambles your data so that it appears to be gibberish to any hackers or snoops wanting to get ahold of it. Encryption comes in the form of a virtual private network, such as that offered by Hotspot Shield. It’s free and will scramble (encrypt) all of your online activity such as things you download, purchases, etc. This provides an impenetrable shield that guards your online actions.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.

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