Report: Bored Air Travelers Can Reroute Their Boss’s Luggage

Written by Evan Schuman
March 7th, 2008

At long last, this week finally delivered a wireless security report with some good news. Due to airport wireless security holes big enough to fly a Boeing 747 through, the report discovered one airport with an unencrypted wireless baggage handling network that could allow bored travelers to hack into it and reroute other people’s luggage for fun.

"Since Bernie ordered me to accompany him on this stupid trip to Philadelphia and we sit here in a five-hour connecting flight delay in Chicago, it’s the least I can do to thank him by giving his luggage a much-deserved holiday in Hong Kong," deviously thinks Brad, the junior LAN administrator with far too much time on his hands.

This delicious wireless security anecdote comes from a study released this week from AirTight Networks, a vendor of wireless security systems. The retail implications go beyond that many of these open wireless networks are from retailers at the airport. The problems of wireless security are going to be getting a lot worse over the next year, as scores of wireless trials kick in at chains throughout the country.

The new report found the wireless security problems that we knew they’d find before they started (what respectable wireless security firm would release a report saying that wireless is quite secure and not in need of their services?), but it also found lots of pockets of wireless security problems in surprising places, such as baggage handling systems.

In late January and early February, the study inspected 11 airports in North America (Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Orange County, Chicago, Pittsburgh, West Palm Beach, Myrtle Beach, Philadelphia, Newark and Ottawa) and three in Asia-Pacific (Seoul, Malaysia and Singapore).

When the study began, company officials expected they would find a lot of public hotspots with weak security, said Sri Sundaralingam, director of Airtight’s product management. But when they arrived, they found that some 77 percent of the WI-FI networks they found were private networks associated with the airports.

And 80 percent of those corporate networks—handling everything from baggage handling and airport merchants to passenger ticketing and airport logistics—were found to either be unsecured or were using outdated WEP security, Sundaralingam said.

The greatest data risk to travelers is clearly their communication riding an airport hotspot, which the report found in droves. But the potential for creating massive havoc on these unsecured is much more intriguing.

One slide that the vendor was sharing with reporters showed a captured data stream from a fellow passenger, complete with what was he looking at (he was looking at the Nasdaq Composite Index on and his full cookie, which would allow the victim to be impersonated.


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