Overhype

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
airplanes, networks, terrorism, wifi

Companies:
american airlines



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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  • icon
    Rikuo (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 4:31am

    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)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 6:43am

      Re:

      Because obviously terrorists would only attack planes where passengers on board noticed their secret terrorist wifi network!

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 4:38am

    Obviously terrorists are smarter than this. They'd have named it "NOT an Al-Qaeda Free Terror Nettwork" because misspelling Qaeda would be highly suspicious.

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

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 6:24am

      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.

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

    • identicon
      Grixis, 28 Oct 2014 @ 12:12pm

      Re:

      that's what they want you to believe

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 6:27am

    Statuscasting

    This story is perhaps not the most ideal use of it, but the feature is sometimes called statuscasting and can even be used for communication without an internet connection by using bluetooth or wifi.

    http://openideals.com/2014/10/06/gilgamesh-twitter-over-bluetooth/

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

  • identicon
    Altaree, 28 Oct 2014 @ 6:27am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 6:42am

      Re: Depressing but predictable.

      I think Al-Qaeda would've spelled their name correctly. Just saying...

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 28 Oct 2014 @ 7:43am

      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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 9:09am

      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.

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

      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 8:51pm

        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.

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

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 29 Oct 2014 @ 6:34am

        Re: Re: Depressing but predictable.

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

        I disagree. This call was easy -- nothing needed to be done. There was no risk.

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

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 3:21pm

      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?

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

      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 8:53pm

        Re: Re: Depressing but predictable.

        Why not just say "we knew this was a prank" and let it go... without the 3 hour delay?

        I'd certainly favour that airline.

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

  • icon
    Gumnos (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 6:41am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anon, 28 Oct 2014 @ 8:37am

      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?)

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

      • identicon
        Michael J. Evans, 28 Oct 2014 @ 1:04pm

        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

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

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 1:41pm

        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.

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

  • identicon
    Digitari, 28 Oct 2014 @ 7:04am

    Re: Re:

    the crazy part of this, on another site, they had a screen grab and were CONNECTED to it.

    "yes I'm scared but I still have porn"

    (my wifi says NSA bounce reflector)

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

  • icon
    Michael Donnelly (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 7:37am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2014 @ 7:59am

      Re: Key point: it wasn't a threat.

      And I'm just waiting for the overreaction that will actually kill someone.

      Maybe that will cure this paranoia...

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

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 28 Oct 2014 @ 7:38am

    Future Headlines:

    BREAKING: Terrorists Rename WiFi Hotspots, Launch Mass Plane Grounding Campaign

    Seriously, I now know that all I need to do to disrupt a flight is rename my hotspot to something terroristy.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 28 Oct 2014 @ 7:47am

      Re: Future Headlines:

      Actually, all you need to do is broadcast an SSID in range of airplanes with a name that is "terroristy".

      You can do that without an actual hotspot and, for about $15 worth of equipment, from well outside the airport.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 8:26am

    All you wanna-be monkey wrenchers, wouldn't it be smarter and nicer to name your hotspot something like one of these:

    USA Still Free
    Snowden Peace Prize
    TSA Useless

    So you can make your point without actually disrupting anything.

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

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 8:35am

    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

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

  • icon
    davebarnes (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 8:43am

    More worried about

    I am much more concerned about the Wi-Fi network in my neighborhood labeled: FBI Van #2.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 9:10am

    The home of the brave?

    Ehhh...not so much, anymore.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 9:43am

    Tim Cushing is an idiot for how he named the title of the article. It wasn't a stupid wifi hospot, it was a moron who decided to name their hotspot after a terrorist organization.

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

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 10:04am

      Re:

      ...it was a moron who decided to name their hotspot after a terrorist organization.


      Which would make it a "stupid wifi hotspot name" in my book.

      Who is the idiot here again?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 10:40am

      Re:

      it was a moron who decided to name their hotspot after a terrorist organization.

      Um no, it is the "Al-Quida FREE" as in free of "Al-Quida", "terror network" It was most likely put up by ISIS.

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

    • identicon
      observer, 28 Oct 2014 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      And a moron who thought that the organisation in question would actually use its own name (misspelled) for its SSID.

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

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 5:55pm

      Re:

      name their hotspot after a terrorist organization.
      What terrorist network. Al-Quida isn't a terrorist network that I'm aware of.

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

  • icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 9:46am

    I don't see what the big scare was. It specifically said there were no Al-Quida on that horror movie network.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 10:37am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 10:51am

      Re: Was the hotspot even on the same plane?

      Unlikely, as an aircraft is basically an aluminum tube, which make it a pretty good Faraday cage.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 11:01am

        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).

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

  • identicon
    Digitari, 28 Oct 2014 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Re:

    I don't see this as any kind of threat, even so, I wouldn't connect to it either....

    but to whine about it????

    "Mommy, I'm scared......"


    (Hey, Stay home, you "might" be safe there)

    When your "safety fears" infringe on my rights, it's time for you to stay home.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2014 @ 1:17pm

    It doesnt matter.......if it looks suspicious, then it must be suspicious, ........oh i know, lets make EVERYTHING "illegal"......just to be safe /s

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

  • icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 8:57pm

    Terrorist radio waves might make the plane spontaneously combust.

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

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 28 Oct 2014 @ 11:14pm

    So if I rename my neighbour's Wi-Fi hotspot to Porn Palace, would that make her more or less likely to be found guilty of any copyright infringement that might occur on it?

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

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 29 Oct 2014 @ 9:44am

    Just a thought...

    Did anyone check if the person running the hotspot was named "Albert Quida"?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Heh, my wireless network is named "virus installer"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2014 @ 3:29pm

    mdk3 (WLAN penetration tool) lets you spam SSIDs.

    Have fun.

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

  • identicon
    josh hallas, 16 Jan 2015 @ 7:42pm

    cheap flights

    Hundreds of airlines. Millions of routes. The best deals anywhere
    http://flight.lixter.com
    No booking fees • Save money!
    Click to airway link and get your airplane tiket from their own page

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

  • icon
    Dogfood (profile), 11 Apr 2015 @ 4:07pm

    Illegal?

    I don't think it's illegal to name your wifi connection after a terrorist group. Poor taste but not illegal. But, what wander within range of an airport and it becomes illegal??.
    The same folks who grounded that plane still have my confiscated fingernail clippers from 10 years ago

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


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