7 Ways to Avoid Getting Hacked Via Public In-Flight WiFi

As Jet Blue starts to unveil its newly improved in-flight WiFi, and other airlines inevitably start to follow, passengers need to be aware that they are just as vulnerable in the air as they are on the ground.

Public WiFi can pose serious risks to privacy if people aren’t careful about what they’re doing. There have been countless instances of identity theft after people decide to do their banking without a secure connection. And behold, there’s a pernicious thief in range downloading all of their private information.

But for one reason or another, some may have it in their heads that all those privacy concerns go out the door once they hit 10,000 feet in the air. For future reference, they don’t.

These WiFi networks that airlines provide in-flight are public and not password protected. They’re the exact same type of network you’d find in a coffee shop or some public space where WiFi is a crucial component. Hackers can employ the same exact tactics to undermine public WiFi in the air as they can on the ground. And in many ways, they actually have it easier.

Think about it: in a hacker’s mind, an airplane is a feeding ground. During a flight, they’re given at least an hour in an enclosed space with seemingly oblivious passengers using unprotected WiFi to thieve to their heart’s content and passengers are strangely confident that someone would never have some devious ulterior motive.

Hackers have the opportunity to capitalize on these unconscious biases, but if you take the right steps to protect your information and vulnerabilities then sit back and enjoy the luxuries of modern technology on-board. Here are a few tips to help you stay secure during your travels:

Designate the WiFi Network as Public.

Within your computer settings, you have the option to choose Home, Work, or Public. For passengers, choosing the Public setting is the safest option as it turns off a number of things that make you more vulnerable, like file sharing. It can even hide your computer from other computers.

Avoid Fake Networks

Hackers sometimes create authentic-looking WiFi networks in order to coax people into connecting and then steal your information. Do not fall for this trick, because it’s likely the fastest way for your to lose some of your most important documents and information.

Use a VPN

VPN is short for virtual private network. It essentially encrypts the data that’s being sent from your computer or phone to the server and can be a very useful roadblock for hackers. A professional VPN service, such as NordVPN or Private Internet Access encrypt all the traffic flow between the internet and a device and help to hide your IP address.

Lock Your Browser’s URL

At the top of your browser, you should see a picture of a lock on the left.  This means that your browser is using HTTPS, which essentially means that the communication between your device and the website is secure and can help prevent hackers penetrating your computer.

Don’t Update Your Software In-Flight

If the network is asking you to update your software in order to be connected, double check with the airline and confirm that it’s necessary. This is a classic trick of hackers to get malware on your computer, so don’t fall for it. You’re better than that.

Update Your Firewalls

Before you take a trip, make sure all of your devices are up-to-date on their firewalls, anti-spyware, and antivirus software. A good security software could be the difference between a relaxing vacation and a stressful call with your bank.

Forget the Network

When you’ve completed your flight, make sure to go into your network setting and Forget The Network so your device won’t automatically connect. This will ensure that you go through the process of connecting to the correct network and protect against any potential threat if the network has been compromised.

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Written by:
Jacob is a journalism and political science student at Arizona State University. He likes to learn and write about anything that isn’t cliché. His primary interests are foreign policy, solutions to global poverty, and tech innovation. He has helped lead multiple student groups on campus that have hosted a range of speakers on international issues and has acted as moderator for a couple himself. In his free time, he likes to watch movies, read weird books, and drink offensive amounts of coffee.
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