Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Internet at 33,000 Feet

The announcements by some airlines (and airplane companies, such as Boeing) that they'd start providing in-flight internet access soon, generated some mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it's another great way to distract yourself and while away the long hours. Not to mention a chance to keep in touch and get some work done (if that's what you're after).

On the other, it now means all kinds of online activities that were so far limited to home (chatting, Skyping, even surfing for porn) will be carried out in a crammed, limited space. Or as this AP article aptly put it:
Seat 17D is yapping endlessly on an Internet phone call. Seat 16F is flaming Seat 16D with expletive-laden chats. Seat 16E is too busy surfing porn sites to care. Seat 17C just wants to sleep.

Welcome to the promise of the Internet at 33,000 feet — and the questions of etiquette, openness and free speech that airlines and service providers will have to grapple with as they bring Internet access to the skies in the coming months.

So it may well be that airlines will try to censor the internet traffic - but if you've read my blog before (see TOR in How to Hide Your IP), you know this method is not bulletproof.

The flip side is this Ars Technica article, whose writer maintains that internet is already available in public places (cafes, libraries etc.) today and that people do a very good job of censoring themseleves and limiting their impact on their environment.

My take on this is, that while people are pretty good at policing themselves and behaving in a (relatively) normative way in crowds, airplane rides are an exception - they are extremely pressured and limited environments, containing people from different cultures, for long periods of time. Clashes are inevitable. And if airline censoring can prevent close to 90% of those people from accessing offensive content - then that's the way to go.

Today, though, I became aware of another problem stemming from internet availability on planes: Boeing intends to build internet connectivity infrastructure into its new plane, the 787 Dreamliner (the same was planned by Airbus for its A380 - not sure how that went). I read this morning in a USA Today article (a paper I only read at hotels - and then, only because they drop it on my door step every morning smile) that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is warning Boeing that this infrastructure might expose the airplanes to cyber attacks.

The FAA fears that malicious hackers may attempt to take control of the plane (that actually utilizes the internet to update ground stations along the way with its status) through the
internet connection available to passengers. I imagine Boeing has a set of firewalls in place, to separate between the passengers net and the airplane net, but I would thing some kind of physical barrier is required. Because one fact has been proven time and again: hackers are much more ingenious than security experts.

So if we don't want people hijacking airplanes with just keyboards, and for all our sakes, I suggest Boeing hires the best hackers out there, challenge them to hack the system, and close the holes when they do.

No comments: