Stupid WiFi Hotspot Name Gets American Airlines Flight Grounded

from the because-terrorists-would-name-their-terrorist-network-something-terroristic dept

America: land of the ass coverage policy and home of “better safe than sorry.” Free and brave? Not so much. If anyone wants to know if the terrorists have won, here’s another one to file under “Exhibit A: Yes, At Least A Sizable Partial Victory.”

When some dumbass can keep planes from flying simply by renaming a WiFi hotspot, we as a nation cannot claim to have won the War on Terror, much less to be picking up some easy points during “trash time.”

An American Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport to London was delayed Sunday after concerns over the name of a WiFi hotspot.

A passenger saw the WiFi connection, named “Al-Quida Free Terror Nettwork,” and expressed concern to a flight attendant.

Flight 136 was taken back to the gate and delayed until 1 p.m. Monday, American Airlines officials said.

This delayed the flight for three hours. Those grounded by the quite-obviously-not-a-wireless-Al-Qaeda-hotspot were initially told it was a “maintenance problem.” How fucking comforting is that? Instead of admitting to being pranked into submission by a single person, the airline instead chose to frame it as something with a much larger potential of killing its flying customers.

“Nothing to do with terrorists here, folks! Just the small chance that the plane you’ll eventually be boarding may not be airworthy!”

According to ABC7’s report, the airline is “assessing” the situation. And, of course, “law enforcement has been notified,” because that’s what we do when we have no idea what to do. Someone “said” something terrorist-related, therefore law enforcement, assessments, flight delays and NOT A SINGLE COOL HEAD PREVAILING ANYWHERE. May your paranoia always be unfettered.

LOOKS LIKE I PICKED THE WRONG WEEK TO STOP FREAKING OUT ABOUT GODDAMN EVERYTHING.

The WiFi hotspot naming option has been routinely abused in the past, all without serious harm coming to anyone involved. The Consumerist reminds us that another dumbass delayed a Southwestern flight by naming a hotspot “Bomb on Board” — a name more credibly threatening than the misspelled joke listed above.

And let’s not forget how many citizens have pranked/startled wardrivers and leeches by naming their wireless connections things like “FBI_SURVEILLANCE_VAN.” Give anyone the power to name something and it will quickly gravitate towards 4th-grade-level Mad Libs. Hence why any video game in which you can name your protagonist becomes a playground for swear words and dick jokes [timesink]. It also explains why my sons’ loadout presets for Call of Duty: Black Ops are named “pokemon,” “pewd” and “POOP” respectively.

Does anyone actually think this hotspot name indicated terrorist activity? I mean, other than the person reporting the WiFi hotspot name, the person acquiescing to the complainant’s paranoia, the entire chain of command responsible for delaying the flight, the law enforcement officials who actually decided to investigate… never mind. I don’t even want to know the answer. It’s too depressing.

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Comments on “Stupid WiFi Hotspot Name Gets American Airlines Flight Grounded”

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55 Comments
Rikuo (profile) says:

One question I have about this article is…why ground just the one plane? Why did they make the assumption that the router broadcasting that SSID was on that one plane? Why did they not take the obviously logical precaution of stopping ALL flights at that airport? I hear you can get some decent range from 802.11n and 802.11ac equipment.

(/sarcmarc)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“On a side note I’m renaming my wi-fi hotspot next flight. Because the 4th-grade inside me lold at the prank.”

Hey, why bother? Just send an email reminding airport staff that an SSID can be named anything, and even those called “my Wifi” or “fluffy bunny network” could actually be used by terrorists. Then for maximum effect, remind them that people can hide the SSIDs. Someone next to you could have a wireless network called Al Qaeda right now and you wouldn’t know until it’s too late!

Just make sure you’re not in the airport at the time, else you might be there for a while. I’ve never been so glad that my flights at the weekend weren’t related to a country whose agencies are this scared of everything.

Altaree says:

Depressing but predictable.

How many people in that chain of command would have lost all of their retirement benefits if 1) they knew of the hotspot name, and 2) the plane blew up.

There is no personal upside to ignore this prank but there is a very very very small and VERY real downside. Blame congressional hearings and 24/7 media for this crap.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Depressing but predictable.

Sure, but the proper response is probably walking onto the plane calmly, picking up the speaker, and saying: “Excuse me. I apologize for the delay. Would the jackwagon that named their wifi hotspot in poor taste while on an airplane please change it to something else before we take off?”

Then let the plane go on it’s way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Depressing but predictable.

I agree that there is nothing wrong with it being investigated. but grounding the entire plane seems a bit overkill. There has to be a better way.

I suppose they can have a wifi locator or something so that they can more efficiently locate the person responsible without interrupting everyone else?

but I agree that it’s a tough call on both sides. Do something and you risk overreacting. Do nothing and you risk endangering passengers.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Depressing but predictable.

but I agree that it’s a tough call on both sides. Do something and you risk overreacting. Do nothing and you risk endangering passengers.

Do you? Do you really?

I mean, letting the plane take off AT ALL risks endangering passengers. Delaying the flight also has distinct and measurable impact on the lives of passengers.

Consider… In what possible universe could this be a credible threat? You’re positing the existence of a terrorist that is simultaneously competent enough to build or acquire a wifi-triggered bomb, get it onto the plane undetected and have it located somewhere that it will do enough damage to matter, and fly so completely under the radar that there’s no other evidence of risk to the flight… yet so incompetent that not only do they broadcast their SSID, but they think the irony in the name is worth risking the entire operation?

Even if such a terrorist exists, what’s the worst they can do? As soon as he (she?) threatens to detonate the bomb he’ll have half of the rest of the passengers pinning him to the ground and loosening his teeth the old fashioned way – no hijacking there. Or detonate the bomb and take out everyone in the plane, possibly over a populated area. That’s definitely a tragedy, and it would inch flying slightly closer to being more dangerous than driving, assuming there are more such uniquely qualified terrorists.

But if that was going to happen, the tragedy was NOT in failing to react to the wireless network name. It was failing to identify the plot BEFORE it reached the plane… because if the only reason we avoided a terror incident was because of the name of a wireless network, then that’s a failure rather than a success.

I really don’t think it’s in any way a tough call.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Depressing but predictable.

I’d like to live in your world where terrorists are so clueless that they name their wifi hotspots after their own group to draw attention to their activities before they do something.

Then again, the terrorist, I mean “prankster” was successful since he created fear at the airport.

And to other posters- no, the airline did not have to go to these lengths to avoid liability. Why do companies insist on planning for the 0.00001% risk that something will happen? Why not just say “we knew this was a prank” and let it go… without the 3 hour delay?

Gumnos (profile) says:

New ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶s̶c̶h̶e̶m̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶r̶u̶p̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶i̶r̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶n̶e̶t̶w̶o̶r̶k̶s̶ art installation

· get a small wifi enabled computer (such as a RaspPi with a USB wifi dongle) past security
· configure it to bring up the wireless as an access-point with some random “terroristic-to-idiots-but-clearly-not-actually-terroristic” SSID for 5-10 mins, then shut down for some random 30-90 minute interval, optionally randomizing the MAC for additional fun. Maybe also delay for a couple hours after powering up to give some getaway time.
· set it up in some out-of-the-way location where it won’t be disturbed (or disguise it as some official-ish looking object, perhaps labeled as “Passenger Safety Enforcement Device: Do Not Tamper”). Maybe even set it up with a directional antenna on the public side of the TSA checkpoint so you don’t have to concern yourself with getting it through security or paying for a ticket.
· watch as flight after flight get disrupted

So havoc can be yours for ~$50(USD) per installation. Yeah, this sounds like setting a good precedent for terrorists to use.

Anon says:

Re: New ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶s̶c̶h̶e̶m̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶r̶u̶p̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶i̶r̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶n̶e̶t̶w̶o̶r̶k̶s̶ art installation

Um, they have video, your boarding card, and photo ID. Don’t think they won’t spend millions of dollars checking everyone visible on the video to see who went near the spot where the device was eventually located, cross-referencing to names and photo-ID.

Be vewy vewy careful if you fuck with Big Brother, he has no sense of humor, especially around airplanes.

(Remember the electronic gizmos on expressway signs that got most of Boston shut down about 10 years ago?)

Michael J. Evans (profile) says:

Re: Re: New ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶s̶c̶h̶e̶m̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶r̶u̶p̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶i̶r̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶n̶e̶t̶w̶o̶r̶k̶s̶ art installation

Mooninites; as a viral marketing campaign for that Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie.

My favorite line from the pictured characters is probably still this: “Ignignokt: [flipping the bird] I hope he can see this ’cause I’m doing it as hard as I can.” – http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0052023/quotes

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: New ̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶r̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶s̶c̶h̶e̶m̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶r̶u̶p̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶i̶r̶l̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶n̶e̶t̶w̶o̶r̶k̶s̶ art installation

At the time, the Mooninite fiasco made Boston a laughingstock and showed how deeply paranoid and cowardly the city was — even more than the nation as a whole (and that’s saying something). Little did I know that they were just the leading edge of a growing national trend.

Michael Donnelly (profile) says:

Key point: it wasn't a threat.

What’s being overlooked in this hilarious story is that the offending SSID wasn’t even a threat. It was not a network named “Al Qaeda Will Attack” or anything even close to that.

The “take all threats seriously” mentality is already stupid. This is beyond stupid because there was no threat to take seriously.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

prior restraint

If by SELECTING AN ESSID (not “naming a hotspot”) air traffic will be voluntarily disrupted, it stands to reason that the next set of regulations (either codified in law or de facto TSA mandates) will PREVENT THE SELECTION OF AN ESSID which they find disruptive.

…and now we have prior restraint on free expression.

It’s all great to pretend this won’t happen until one day when you can’t fire up your phone tethering and offer up the “TSA Sucks” hotspot.

E

Anonymous Coward says:

Was the hotspot even on the same plane?

In open air, an ordinary WiFi hotspot can have a range of around a hundred metres. On the ground within most airports, planes are often closer to each other than that.

Therefore, a window passenger on a completely different (but nearby) plane could have been the source of the “terroristic” hotspot. No need to postulate long-range directional antennas or high-powered access points for them to have detained the wrong airplane.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Was the hotspot even on the same plane?

The windows are not aluminum, and they are large enough that 2.4GHz waves can easily get out. A window seat passenger on one plane could easily see a hotspot from a window seat passenger on the next plane.

And once the waves got in, the “aluminum tube” part would make them bounce around, so a window seat might even not be needed (were it not for the “bags of water” effect of the other passengers absorbing most of the waves).

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