While in the past, Sharon and I would use the time on board an airplane to catch up on some movies or read a book, we’re now more likely to be working on our laptops. With Wi-Fi service available on most flights, being in the air is no longer an excuse for why you didn’t get an article finished on time.
While I wouldn’t think about logging into a public Wi-Fi network in a Starbucks, airport lounge or hotel without a VPN, I’ve logged into multiple airplanes’ Wi-Fi networks and worked like I was at home. I mean, I had to pay to get access so it must be safe, right? Nope!
Turns out that the Wi-Fi networks on planes aren’t any more private than other public Wi-Fi networks. Just because you’re in the air, doesn’t mean that your data can’t be stolen. The only caveat is that the data thief has to be on the same flight.
The vulnerability of airborne Wi-Fi networks was brought to light when a reporter’s emails were hacked during a flight by the passenger sitting in the row behind him. The resulting story in USA Today showed everyone that airplane Wi-Fi networks aren’t secure. A Gogo representative (The Wi-Fi provider for the flight) confirmed the fact.
In fact, as Steve Nolan, Gogo’s vice president of communications, told me, 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.”
That was 2016, and things haven’t changed much since.
Great. What if you have to get work done on a flight, but you need to make sure your data is secure. What should you do?
Fortunately, the tips to protect yourself in the air are the same as what you’d do when on the ground. I found an article with “7 Ways to Avoid Getting Hacked Via Public In-Flight Wi-Fi,” and the tips are solid.
One of the tips is to make sure you’re using a VPN when on a public network, including those on airplanes. I’ve had problems in the past with getting kicked off airplane Wi-Fi networks when turning on my VPN. I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to solve the problem by enabling my VPN’s stealth mode. For TunnelBear, it’s called GhostBear and most VPNs have a similar setting available.
The other way to keep your data safe when on a plane is to invest in a privacy screen. Without it, the person in the seat next to you, behind you or just the person who is walking back from the lavatory, can read everything you’re working on. No matter how secure your laptops encryption is, it doesn’t matter if anyone can look at your screen and see what you’re working on.
Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security when on a plane. You have no idea who is on your flight and just because you’re up in the air doesn’t mean you’re safe from hackers.
Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and get emailed notifications of when we post. Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group – we have 11,000+ members and we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!
This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary