Will Terrorists Take our In-Flight Wi-Fi?

Just when Wi-Fi is rolling out on more and more planes, could terrorists be poised to steal away our in-flight wireless?

That’s the suspicion of security expert Roland Alford, managing director of explosives consultancy firm Alford Technologies, who believes the cargo bomb plot last week may prompt authorities to reexamine the use of in-flight Wi-Fi. The bombs, hidden inside printer cartridges, included cell phone components that authorities believe may have been used as timers for detonation.

Alford believes phones can also used for remote detonation if they connect over VoIP. His colleague also suggested it could provide a suicide bomber on board an easy way to detonate a bomb in the cargo hold. “In-flight Wi-Fi “gives a bomber lots of options for contacting a device on an aircraft,” Alford told New Scientist.

But don’t get too worried, says Ken Biba, general manager and CTO of Novarum, a wireless consultancy. He said there are already plenty of ways to construct point-to-point networks within a plane though that it’s still far more difficult than utilizing a timer. Someone could try to connect over Bluetooth or bring on their own radio transmitter to trigger a bomb, though it would be sophisticated and would still not guarantee success, Biba said.

On-board Wi-Fi systems also have firewalls that prevent in-bound calls, which should prevent the threat of remote detonations, he said. In-flight Wi-Fi also requires a credit card payment, another hurdle.

Biba said the best line of defense is to monitor explosives, rather than crack down on wireless connectivity, which is likely too complicated an avenue for terrorists to exploit. “The greater the difficulty to implement something, the less likely it is to happen,” Biba said. “A timer is more reliable and simpler doesn’t require a network to operate.”

As long as we’re living with terrorists, there’s always a threat of something happening. For now though, I’m going to listen to Biba and pray that in-flight Wi-Fi remains a force for good in the world.