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How to prevent data hijacking at 30,000 feet

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Steven P. is a journalist and author who has written for the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Even though he used his computer for work, Steve didn’t worry about his online security.

He said, “I’ve got nothing to hide. And who would want to know what I’m up to, anyway?”

Steve is a journalist, but doesn’t write about politics or investigations, so his reporting isn’t the type to put an obvious target on him.

One evening, Steve was traveling on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to North Carolina, spending most of the flight working on his computer.

Steve used American Airlines Gogo in-flight internet Wi-Fi to work and send emails, and at the same time, he was writing an article about Apple.

As Steve was exiting the plane a passenger sitting behind him said, “I need to talk to you.”

Steve was surprised by the comment and responded, “It’s late … need to get home.”

The fellow passenger said, “Wait for me at the gate.” So, Steve waited at the gate. The passenger asked him, “Are you interested in the Apple story?”

Then, the passenger spilled the beans.

He told Steve, “I hacked your email on the plane and read everything you sent and received. I did it to most people on the flight.”

The passenger told Steve verbatim one of the emails he had received.

According to American Airlines’ internet service provider, “the service is public and operates in the same ways as most open Wi-Fi hotspots on the ground.”

It’s estimated that 80% of passengers use in-flight Wi-Fi.

Unfortunately, many of those passengers forget that hackers can target anyone who connects to the internet.

And just because you are using Wi-Fi at 30,000 feet, it doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous.

So, whether you are using the Wi-Fi on an airplane or at your local coffee shop, they can both be hacked.

The false sense of safety many airline passengers feel when using in-flight internet has caught the attention of hackers.

So, to keep you safe on a flight, here are a few added security steps you should take when using airplane Wi-Fi.

Mark the network as public:

When you connect to a Wi-Fi network, your computer will typically ask what kind of network it is, such as home, work, or public.

Always make sure you select public.

When you do this, it turns off some features of your computer that could lead to your data accidentally being shared with fellow passengers, including file sharing.

Watch for fake networks:

When you board the plane look for information on the in-flight Wi-Fi. If you see a pamphlet or video with the network name, try to write it down.

Double-check that you are connecting to the correct in-flight network. Hackers often create fake networks that might differ by one letter from the real network.

This can even be more challenging if you are traveling in a foreign country and there is a language barrier.

Don’t update/download:

If the in-flight Wi-Fi network asks you to download something, avoid it. This is one of the most common ways hackers will attack people on Wi-Fi.

Also, don’t update your computer or phone when connected to the in-flight Wi-Fi. This is another method that hackers will use to hack into your computer or device.

Forget the Wi-Fi:

After your flight, you want to check that your computer or device didn’t save the Wi-Fi network. If you’re still connected to the Wi-Fi, you want to select “forget the network.”

You’ll want to erase the network from your device.

The goal is to make sure that your device doesn’t automatically connect to the in-flight Wi-Fi.

This means that the next time you want to connect to the in-flight Wi-Fi you would need to log in and give permission again, which is what you want.

Bottom line: connecting to the in-flight Wi-Fi can potentially put your data at risk. Don’t fall victim to the false sense of security that you are on a trusted network.

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