The Risks Associated With Using In-Flight Wi-Fi
Imagine sitting in a restaurant with your laptop (or other device) or at your local Starbucks coffee shop looking to get some work done or check your bank balance. Would you connect to the public Wi-Fi without any protection in those locations to do so?
Probably not – and you shouldn’t. Imagine if that restaurant or that Starbucks had 200 people (or more) in it. You would probably feel even less secure about unprotected connection to Wi-Fi.
That’s essentially what you’re doing when you connect to an airplane’s public Wi-Fi connection. It’s just as unsafe – in fact, it’s even worse because you’re typically exposed to a greater number of people. This USA Today reporter learned this the hard way when someone hacked into his email and read everything he sent and received during a flight.
You may think that in-flight Wi-Fi is safer, but it’s not. Unprotected in-flight Wi-Fi is a bad idea. Two reasons:
- Hackers could access your connection while on public Wi-Fi and steal the private information you transmit, from bank account numbers to email messages and social media passwords.
- You could pick up a virus or malware that could infect your device.
It’s best to avoid airplane internet if you can. It can be expensive, and the connection is often spotty at best.
If you do connect, don’t make any sensitive transactions, such as checking your bank balance or logging into your email.
Even in-flight Wi-Fi providers acknowledge the risks associated with the service. Gogo is a leading provider of in-flight broadband Internet service and Steve Nolan, Gogo’s vice president of communications, has stated that the service is “public” and “operates in the same ways as most open Wi-Fi hotspots on the ground.” He cautioned against “accessing sensitive materials while in flight.”
Protecting Yourself When Using In-Flight Wi-Fi
Make Sure Your Firewall and Antivirus Software is Up to Date
Before flying, maximize your protection by making sure all of your devices are up to date on their firewalls, anti-spyware, and antivirus software. This maximizes your protection against potential attack.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts the data sent from your device to the server, which is an effective way to block out hackers. VPN solutions like NordVPN or Private Internet Access encrypt transmitted data and also help to hide your IP address.
Sometimes, VPN users are more prone to being kicked off public Wi-Fi, including in-flight Wi-Fi. Most VPN providers have a “stealth mode” that disguises the VPN packets of data so that the network can’t tell that it’s actually VPN traffic.
Connect to the WiFi Network as Public
When you connect to a network from a computer, you have the option to select Home, Work, or Public network. Selecting the Public setting is the safest option as it disables features that make you more vulnerable, like file sharing.
Watch for Fake Networks
A common tactic of hackers is to create authentic-looking Wi-Fi networks to trick people into connecting so that they can steal their information. Be careful which network you connect to and don’t connect to any network unless you’re sure it’s legitimate.
Avoid Software Updates In-Flight
When connected to in-flight Wi-Fi (or any public Wi-Fi network, for that matter), you should avoid applying any software updates. They can wait until you’re on a more secure connection.
Forget the Network When You’re Done
When you have finished using the in-flight Wi-Fi network, the last thing you should always do is to select and “Forget this Network” to ensure that your device doesn’t automatically connect the next time you’re within reach of that network.
As the USA Today reporter mentioned above found out, leaving your computer or other device vulnerable with 200+ potential hackers around connected to in-flight Wi-Fi is a bad idea. It’s important to take the same precautions you would when connecting to any other public Wi-Fi network. If you must connect to a public network – in-flight or otherwise – apply the best practices discussed above whenever you do so. Failing to do so increases your odds of getting hacked considerably.