No, In-Flight Internet Is Not A Terrorist Threat

from the panic-stations! dept

The New York Times noticed over the weekend that some US airlines have begun offering in-flight WiFi, and that not everybody's happy about it (via Wolfe's Den ). There are the usual comments about passengers being annoying by making loud VoIP calls or not turning down the volume on YouTube videos, but inserted in is the unchallenged statement from a flight attendants' union spokesman saying it fears "terrorists plotting a scheme on a plane could use Wi-Fi to communicate with one another on board and with conspirators on the ground." As Glenn Fleishman points out, this is only slightly ridiculous. If you're a terrorist, you're hardly likely to se a ban on in-flight phone use as an impediment to communications, while the airplane's WiFi system doesn't enable any on-board communication that wouldn't be possible with other technologies like Bluetooth, or even ad-hoc WiFi networks. There are plenty of more legitimate reasons to dislike in-flight WiFi, but the suggestion that it's making planes unsafe is a fairly hollow one.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Relonar, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:09pm

    1. satphone
    2. modem
    3. ????
    4. Profit!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    TSO, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:17pm

    Well, one thing I can think of is a wi-fi enabled bomb hidden in the cargo compartment that can be detonated over the internet...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    inc, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:48pm


    wouldn't an altitude triggered device be a more effective less complex method? Who the hell is going to go through the trouble of getting wi-fi to work just to set off a bomb?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    UnlikeLobster, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:51pm


    The point is more that bringing WiFi to planes doesn't make them any more unsafe than they already are. A bomb in the cargo compartment could just as easily, if not more so, be detonated by calling the throw away cell phone it's attached to. WiFi would be less reliable and thus much less likely to be used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Trails (profile), Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:51pm

    It could provide a warning

    Worry if anyone on your plane twitters: "This box cutter is digging into my ass something fierce"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Trails (profile), Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:54pm


    A wifi enabled bomb? As someone else suggested, altitude triggered, or if you want remote triggered how about simple radio-triggered?

    Why in the world would you make a bomb with a dependence on a router and working DHCP?

    Give me a break.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    John, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 4:55pm

    Why stop at terrorism?

    After all, pedophiles could be looking at porn by using the in-flight wi-fi! Won't someone think of the children?!?!

    I think it's time we banned ALL technology from airplanes because anything can be used as a terrorist weapon or to hurt kids. That pillow? Yep, ban it- it's a smothering threat. That book? Yep, ban it- you could use it to hit someone on the head.

    That sharp plastic (or metal) knife which is included in the in-flight meal to cut the food? Sure, that's fine. No terrorist would ever think to use something as obvious as a knife! Creating a master-plot using wi-fi is much more effective.

    All joking aside, when will we grow up and get over the fear that anything can be used as a weapon if we think about it hard enough. Personally, I think this is how the terrorists won on 9/11: we're now so afraid that something will be used "by terrorists" that we give up on an idea before it's even had a chance.
    Do we really, honestly think that terrorists are so sophisticated that they have wi-fi enabled bombs? Or are we still living fear that a terrorist could strike anywhere, at any time... or that a terrorist could be disguised as a 5-year old child who needs to be searched before going through airport security?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 5:45pm

    Re: Why stop at terrorism?

    While I feel that your smug comment about terrorists being ignorant cave-dwelling neanderthals who could never figure out Wi-Fi enabled detonators a bit ignorant of say... common news reports, from FOX and from BBC, I do recognize that banning "knives", but allowing CDs and CD players is a silly concept. Anyone who has ever snapped a CD in two pieces knows that you have two large sharp objects as formidable a weapon as any box-cutter. So why are we banning nail-clippers again?

    Your point was well founded up until you thought "the bad guy" was dumber than you/us. They (boogey-men) have a collective membership whose expertise may be in areas you are or are not versed in. To not expect technical proficiency is foolishness. For one instance, who would have thought that anyone should need fear anyone "so sophisticated" that could fly a commercial airline jet? I know I can't -- and I know that I could, if I took the time and effort to learn how. How is knowledge about Wi-Fi or nearly any other technology so vastly more difficult to obtain?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    gyffes, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 6:45pm

    Well, as long as we're discussing weaponry...

    A laptop battery in one of those pillowcases? Coke can torn in half (I like the CD idea, hadn't thought of that...)? Actually, the amount of damage to the human body that I could do with a bic pen is fairly astonishing. Next thing y'know, they'll be taking away my MacBook Air 'cause it can cut Cake. Not the dessert item, the band.

    Oh, no, we're arming the terrorists! They're comin' for our IPs, Techdirt -- FIGHT FIGHT WIN!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 7:09pm


    And if you really want to smuggle a bomb onto an aircraft, why not stick up your damn ass. I don't want to imagine the boarding screen if somebody ever tries that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2009 @ 8:22pm

    You want a real weapon? Break open one of those children's manual pencil sharpeners. The razor they have encased in that flimsy plastic is one of the most sharp things I have ever witnessed in my life.

    And we're afraid of a little liquid or wifi

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    ulle, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 2:45am

    If you go back to the 1940s it was "a jap under every rock" then in the 1950s it was "a commie under every rock" and now we have "a terrorist under every rock". I wonder when people will start learning history and actually paying attention to what they learn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 2:48am

    Actually I agree that they should ban WiFi on flights. Think about it.

    There I am merrily flying along when I get the sudden urge visit, which in the several hours I'm in the air manages to radicalise me.

    I then visit their sister site which tells me how to make an incendiary device on a plane using only the sick bag, my own farts and static electricity.

    Boom, no more plane.

    Think of the children for once, please!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    mermaldad (profile), Feb 11th, 2009 @ 5:45am

    Re: No. 13

    I think the commenter in #13 is stretching credulity by suggesting that he might get a sudden urge to visit, but here's a little more believable scenario (tongue in cheek, of course):

    Then I am merrily flying along when I get the sudden urge to visit, where I am exposed to all manner of radical ideas. I get so worked up I decide to take down the plane. I learn on the *same website* that I can make weapons out of a CD and a Coke can. Suddenly, I'm in command of the plane, flying into a building.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    TSO, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re:

    > wouldn't an altitude triggered device be a more effective less complex method?

    AFAIK cargo compartments are pressurized :-b

    And cellphones won't work at 30000 feet. I tried.

    And I was also talking about "pay ransom in 2 hours, or we'll detonate the bomb aboard that plane. (And BTW it will self detonate if you decide to be smart and cut the wifi off.)"

    See Shinkansen daibakuha (

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Terrorist, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 4:32pm

    WiFi detonator? Meh. Altitude detonator? Meh, too complicated. Simple timing detonator. Yes! Me pick long flight.

    But I will position explosive next to sales jerk, who insists on talking on Skype, or the lonely housewife who insists on babeling to her sister about her loser husband or the teenager who watches rick rolled vides on YouTube. Down with the infidels.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Andrew Yu-Jen Wang, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 3:25pm

    Speaking of terrorism:

    George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism (indicated in my blog).

    George W. Bush did in fact commit innumerable hate crimes.

    And I do solemnly swear by Almighty God that George W. Bush committed other hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism which I am not at liberty to mention.

    Many people know what Bush did.

    And many people will know what Bush did—even to the end of the world.

    Bush was absolute evil.

    Bush is now like a fugitive from justice.

    Bush is a psychological prisoner.

    Bush has a lot to worry about.

    Bush can technically be prosecuted for hate crimes at any time.

    In any case, Bush will go down in history in infamy.

    Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
    B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

    I am not sure where I had read it before, but anyway, it is a linguistically excellent statement, and it goes kind of like this: “If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memory so it never got stale and faded.” Oh wait—off of the top of my head—I think the quotation came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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