It seems we can find ways to connect with the world, even from 30,000 feet. While flying used to be a no-wifi zone, connectivity is now available on 78 percent of US flights, according to an article on TravelWeekly.com.
This may be good for business travelers, but it can be bad for security while in-flight. According to Richard Blech, CEO of Secure Channels, a cyber defense firm, “The easiest way to look at this is that [wifi] is a public network, and public networks, in general, are not secure…If there is someone on the aircraft that wants to get into the network, they are going to get into the network.”
According to several security experts, something most travelers don’t consider when using onboard wifi is their proximity to others. “You’ve got three to five hours locked in, and everyone’s stationary,” Blech said. “That’s a world of time for a hacker.”
With this in mind, should you avoid logging on while flying? No, but common sense should prevail. Here are some tips for being mindful of a possible cyber threat while en route:
- Be aware that whatever is on your screen is visible to your seatmates. Dim your screen or shield it, if possible.
- Don’t access or transmit sensitive information, particularly anything that would give another person access to personal records. That means don’t do any personal banking or bill paying on the plane.
- Run system updates after you’ve used public wifi so that any vulnerabilities can be patched.
- Be sure to only use the airline’s network. Hackers will create spoof networks to catch unsuspecting, distracted users. Ask a flight attendant if you’re not sure, and alert them to any fake networks you spot.
- Consider signing up for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so that your connection, although a bit slower, is guaranteed to be secure and encrypted.
Bottom line? Use all the same precautions in the air that you would while on the ground. If necessary, just don’t log onto the airplane’s wifi, and shut off your computer’s own wifi to stay protected.
Business travelers, do you log onto the plane’s wifi system while you’re on board? How do you protect your data and equipment. Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.
Photo credit: Becky Stern (Flickr, Creative Commons)