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back to article Aircraft bombs may mean end to in-flight Wi-Fi, mobile

The ability to use Wi-Fi and cellphones on planes may be curtailed just as it was about to take off, following an aviation threat uncovered last week. Plastic explosives found in laser printer cartridges that traveled from Yemen to the UK and Dubai were connected to cellphone-based detonation circuits, prompting concerns that …

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"The ability to use Wi-Fi and cellphones on planes may be curtailed..."

Every cloud....

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@CADmonkey

agreed. They say that as though it were it's a BAD thing...

If the obnoxious dumbass in the seat next to me spends a significant portion of a 4 hour flight yammering on his/her cellphone, I'll be arrested shortly after landing for the act of extreme violence I imparted upon said dumbass.

Any excuse to DISallow in-flight cellphone usage is good by me.

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Anonymous Coward

Well duh !

Didn't anyone consider cellphone triggered bombs might end up on planes -considering these have existed for some time?

We live in a crazy world that just gets more insane everyday.

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Ah but...

That would only have happened if people had used mobile phones as detonators on the ground. It's not like this has ever been done before. Ever. And certainly no-one has ever built a bomb inside a mobile phone itself to assassination. Nonono. Well, apart from Yahya Ayyash and Mahmoud Hamshari.

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It was considered

The powers that be were more scared of the terrorists talking to each other and synchronising their actions for a takeover case. They never considered the other possibilities.

While the mobile phone has always been the ultimate bomb trigger it was never considered by the security "pros" until that trained Bulgarian engineering school dropout from Satovcha used it to build the bomb detonators for Madrid. Did he pick it up from the CIA and Saudi training he allegedly had or it was his own idea we will never know.

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Collateral Damage

That movie was made *before* 9/11, yet it already featured a Nextel-detonated bomb. Twice. I somehow believe that the cellphone-triggered bombs were already a well-thought idea before the Madrid bombings!

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FAIL

Ermmm

How would they stop a mobile phone based detonation while the plain is at low altitiude - i.e. taking off or on its landing approach? Thats been possible for years and has never been done.

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Boffin

Michael Faraday has something to say

How well do radio waves penetrate a Faraday cage made from aluminium? Apart from the plane itself, baggage containers could shield the device quite well, if properly made.

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Less to say than you'd think

While I've never sat in a baggage container, I have received text messages welcoming me to the country that my flight was on final approach to. This was in 2002, before in-flight mobile calls, so calling/texting a detonator while an aircraft is over a densely populated area is quite possible.

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Errrm

If you were a terrorist, would you really worry about (or would anyone notice) you switching on Wifi on your phone/PSP/Laptop?

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Missing something?

I could be wrong here, but how exactly does that stop someone on the ground phoning someone's luggage pretty much any time under 10,000 feet?

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@Missing something?

Mobile/cell phones do not connect to base stations at that height or a lot less. I've 'accidently' tested this using GSM/3g in a well established country south of the equator, where you are supposed to turn off phones in flight. oops.

I lost base station signal (bars) at around 1500 feet on take off. Speed would I guess be 250knots plus. Despite having some signal bars a phone call was not possible. All bars were lost after this.

At my destination city, I started getting signal when crossing some high points. Height was maybe 1000 feet but speed was quite high. Landing was the only time it was possible to get a useable signal but making a call was impossible as I connected to 4 base stations, sequentially, down the strip. Speed was too high abnd base stations could not make effective connection and would have not been able to hand over to the next station.

The only time it was possible to make a call was at taxi-ing speed. I am told by the radio guys that the base stations are setup with signal oriented to receiving on the ground, where people and cars are and that base station handover at speed is a technical issue whcih must be considered. as I recall some Canadians tested this in a light aircraft a few years ago as well.

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@PatrickE

It's been a few years since I worked on phones, but the long and short of it is that handsets have a "top speed" below which they won't function. You get problems with Doppler shift, the time required to handover between base-stations, and power loop control. I forget the numbers, but GSM 900 probably won't work above 250kph, GSM 1800 about 135kph, and 3G even lower.

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Anonymous Coward

I've done it many times

I'm a pilot of small aircraft. I've made cell calls in flight several times (I know I not "supposed to", and never IFR). Most at over 10,000 feet and close to 200kts. It works suprisingly well.

If I recall, numerous passengers made last minute cell phone calls from one of the planes that was hijacked on 9/11?

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Black Helicopters

Practicalities

Isn't a mobile phone in the luggage hold effectively in a faraday cage, therefore unlikely to connect to an operator's (pico)cell? Similarly with wifi? Would you not need to know the SSID and password of the access point in advance?

As for the provenance of the bomb threat, it came at a very convenient moment for certain politicians and securotards, just after airlines question the value and inconsistancy of security measures and just before elections in the US. Also, if you're planning on using explosive parcels to blow up cargo planes mid flight, why would you send them from the middle east to prominent jewish organisations in the US? How can you be sure when to trigger or time the bombs to go off?

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Boffin

Faraday cage

works for electro*static* charge, not electro*magnetic.

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Anonymous Coward

lol

yeah I thought that, but then it is a bit of a stretch to say the powers that be did it on purpose, wouldn't be suprised if terroristas did it becouse they thought "o shit! Those fat stinking westerners are getting their lives back to normal. best deploy some more stuffs so they shit themselves again!"

Funny thing was watching the news afterwards, honestly those dumb cards that sit in the bbc office talking to people are the least enlightening people in the universe, now I don't particularly like ryan air or their boss, but I'm impressed he kept his cool confronted by the colosal stupidity that is a bbc anchorman.

"Are your passengers willing to take the risk?"

What risk you dumb ---- the bomb was on a cargo plane, and infact so well hidden that when the officals knowing what they were looking for looked, they couldn't find the bomb! They had to go back again after someone went "nope, there really is a bomb go back and look harder" cargo planes are treated in a completly different way to passanger planes, suffice to say a piece of cargo doesn't need to hand over its bottled water, go through a metal detector, have a pat down and a security check with some secret agent government superbase.

And even with all that security in place, a guy whose dad reported him for being a potential terrorist and risk to others walked onto a plane with a (albeit it silly) bomb. Answer? More security doesnt' work, more intelligence does.

This is actually a lot like tackeling youth crime, more prison space and police officers doesn't solve the problem, more youth projects, clubs and, social events do. But there isn't as much money in those things.

The monumentally epic stupidity of people is amazing. Honestly amazing. What's worse are these people are opinion formers, faced with such epic stupidity you are left thinking "to be honest, humanity would be better off if someone topped you."

This kind of thing also brings to mind the bellow example.

"What there's someone trapped down the well? My god, we best block up the well so nobody else can get trapped down there."

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Short answer - no

For a Faraday cage to block EM radiation it has to have holes that are significantly smaller than the wavelength of radiation in question and thick enough conductors. In the case of mobile phones, the wavelengths are very small (< 1mm) so therefore the aircraft is not a Faraday cage for that frequency. The main reason aircraft are constructed to be Faraday cages is to deal with lightning strikes, and that is a very different problem.

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I think you need to re-read your GCSE physics there

"In the case of mobile phones, the wavelengths are very small (< 1mm)"

Errrr, no.

Wavelength = speed of light / frequency

Speed of light is about 3e8 m/s, highest mobile phone band I can find is 2100 MHz (European 3G) which is 2.1 GHz or 2.1e9 Hz

thus

wavelength = 3e8 / 2.1e9 = 14.3 cm.

A fair bit larger than 1mm in fact.

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I think YOU need to re-read your GCSE physics there

But that is still smaller than the windows and other gaps in the plane.

I know for a fact that a GSM cell phone will work from inside a plane, 'cos I've used one (on the ground with the pilot's permission I hasten to add).

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Boffin

No!

Magnetism is just a case of a Lorentz-transformed Coulomb field. The same principles apply. In fact electromagnetic waves are reflected from a metallic surface precisely because of its conductive properties, because the physical surface is an (approximate) equipotential surface. The longer the wavelength, the more pronounced this effect as a rule (for a 21 cm radio telescope, we need only a mesh with holes of say 20 mm to achieve excellent reflection, whereas for an optical telescope we need a much more precise surface)

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@RedBren

It's only a Faraday cage if it doesn't contain non-conducting holes greater than about the wavelength of the radio waves (say ~10-15cm).

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But the luggage hold and containers

can be made Faraday cages with holes far less than 1mm

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Boffin

Re: works for electro*static* charge, not electro*magnetic.

Yep, but for a radio wave, you cannot have one without the other. Or so I seem to recall from my physics lessons. A magnet next to the Faraday cage is one thing but that is not the situation here.

(Also recall seeing a demo of this in our local "Heureka" science center: putting a small FM radio into a Faraday cage silenced it).

The real problem is just how good a Faraday cage the cargo hold really is. Cellular works on high frequenies, so it can get in through fairly small openings.

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Boffin

I wasn't talking about gaps, merely pointing out poor physics

At what point did I mention gaps? Windows? Using a cell phone on a plane?

The post said that the wavelengths were <1mm, I was pointing out that if someone wants to make a point about wavelengths, it should at least have some basis in reality.

Any phone operating on a wavelength of <1 mm would be so small you'd lose it in your pocket and there aren't many consumer products out there operating at 300 GHz (wavelength of 1mm is 300 GHz...)

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Boffin

An idea

It ought to be possible to design an airliner cell, which doesn't connect to any phone that hasn't been explicitly registered. Registration could be self-service. After the flight takes off, a passenger wanting to use his or her phone turns it on and takes to the registration point. This would be a metal box (faraday cage, radio screen) which reads the phone's ID from inside, once the box's door is closed. Once registered, the phone would work normally from any seat in the cabin, but (automatically) only until the plane next landed.

So any passenger on the plane could use their phone, but a phone in the luggage compartment would be unable to register itself even it it had been cunningly reprogrammed to try. Wouldn't stop suicide bombers, but would defeat the non-suicide variety (or at least force them to use less precise triggering devices such as timers or air pressure switches).

Wi-fi notebooks, effectvely ditto.

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Cloning

Register a cloned handset. Switch it off. Other clone in hold turns on.

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Anonymous Coward

Or...

Put a wide band cell phone disruptor in the cargo hold (like those illegal thingamajigs you can buy for train journeys and the like, kills all cell reception in the carriage) - shield the cabin area.

I don't see any need to provide special security in the cabin area as everyone has presumably gone through the scanners anyway, and why would you use a cell phone to activate the bomb you managed to smuggle into the cabin?

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That is not guaranteed to work and will fry the passengers

A femtocell coupled with a suitable controller is 100 times better than any jammer or disruptor. There is a number of particularly entertaining reject codes in GSM which will cause a phone to go into a halt mode. They are hardly ever used because they are not part of the usual compliance spec and some older phones like old Samsung reboot instead of shutting down. The rest supports them fairly well though.

You can just tell all phones that are on but not registered properly with the femto to shut off. You can also detect phones which have been left on with roaming enabled. It can also be used as a security feature by running through the "destination" operators in sequence as "pre-flight checklist" and raising an alert if any phone tries to sign on.

So the real security solution here is not knee-jerk against femtocells. It is to equip all planes with one and actively use them for security management.

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Cloning - not a big problem

Someone has to be *on the plane* to register the phone with the clone. So he's still a suicide bomber, albeit with a remote-control bomb in hold baggage now under someone else's control. I thought the big worry was a phone-bomb loaded as *freight*, and a non-suicide-bomber able to detonate it from the ground. (Possibly also GPS-track it).

You could also make my plane-cell base station de-register any phone as soon as it is turned off. Don't know how phones work well enough to say if a phone and its clone both on at the same time could be detected. I'd hope so, if only as some sort of unusual protocol error which would be reason enough to immediately deregister both the phone and its clone.

And as someone suggested above, phone-suppressors in the hold, faraday-shielded from the cabin by the metal floor, sounds like such a good idea they ought ti implement it immediately. If cabin floors are not solid metal, then they should henceforward be designed with a metal foil screen (which could be retrofitted during maintenance).

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Anonymous Coward

Agreed

A friend of mine owns a few of those devices, including a vehicle based one but the best fun is had with a TV-B-Gone.

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Stop

How much are these scaremongers paid?

If we're going to ban mobile phones and wifi, then were going to have to ban all timepieces and anything capable of making a ticking noise. A timebomb is a much more plausable, realistic and reliable approach than the mobile phone.

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Anonymous Coward

Excelent point

A phone-based bomb on a plane doesn't have much to offer over a good old fashioned time bomb.

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Terrorist would prefer a phone bomb

A phone bomb can be detonated when it will cause most damage on the ground, for example during low-altitude approach to an airport over an urban area.

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Anonymous Coward

Be

Be totally safe,

All passangers must travel naked. Scanners are not sufficent.

All caveties must be investigated. A suicide bomber has no sense of decency.

No baggage will be allowed. Scanners are not sufficent.

No food will be provided. Caterers can not be trusted.

Aircraft will be kept under armed guard at all times by security cleared Troopers. The land is not secure.

All fuel will be tested before leaving the fuel depot. It will remain under armed guard at all times. The citizenship can not be trusted.

All citizens on or within 100 miles of an airport must be security vetted. Everybody is a potential terrorist, and anyone could use a stinger missile.

The new air stewerds will be combat troopers with gas masks and fletchette rifles. We can take no chances.

Pilots will live on base, they will not be allowed internet access, they will under go daily psychological and loyalty examinations. All pilots will have a kill chips installed to ensure in case of terrorist thoughts they will be terminated.

Or, live like normal people and deal with the risk. At the end of the day you're far less likely to die as a westerner than you are as someone living in Africa, Middle East, or large sections of Asia and South America. Of course people wont deal with it, they'll piss their pants and cry and demand more security (well they wont but that's what we get. Most of us don't give a toss and know that our lives are far safer than a good 60% of the rest of human population.)

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Heart

@AC "Be"

*clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap*

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fuel

> All fuel will be tested before leaving the fuel depot. It will remain under armed guard at all times. The citizenship can not be trusted.

Any fuel found to be even the least bit flammable will be destroyed as an obvious sabotage attempt. Passengers will have to walk to their destinations. (but they'll still be charged Air Passenger Duty and the Fuel Surcharge, oh. and the UK Passenger Service Charge as well)

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Anonymous Coward

We will never...

... be allowed on planes naked as the USikans are far. FAR more afraid of the naked human body than they are of any terrorists. And of cause as we always follow the USikans the same rules will apply everywhere.

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Pint

Bravo!

I don’t know what you do for a living, but you probably could write dystopian films! :)

Careful though, 'the powers that be' may look at your article and go, hey, good idea! we didn’t think of stinger missiles...

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Boffin

Face it...

...sooner or later we will be asked to disrobe and board the plane in airline supplied underwear and nothing else!

You really don't want to see me in my grots, enough to put any would be terrorist off for life!

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Not so dim

Not so stupid a suggestion: all passengers wear airline-supplied transparent suits and their baggage flies in a cargo drone no less than a couple of miles away. Passengers order their in-flight entertainment (vid, e-book etc) in advance. They are re-united with their kit after landing.

It also gives the trolly-dollies plenty of laughs. Well, in my case at least.

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Cargo flying separately?

Happens all the time doesn't it? Unfortunately, your cargo tends to often go "more than a couple of miles away". Usually Singapore. When you are in the US...

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Err, deeeeer

What about the explosives on the plane? Stop we're going to have phones banned - but how about stopping the explosive from getting on the plane in the first place. Stupid. Someone is doing some shroud waving to try and get some publicity for themselves without actually making any difference to security.

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Oh, please, please!

Any excuse is valid for banning the bloody phones on the planes!

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OH NOES !!!

Does this mean anybody who would plan an attack on an aircraft would need to use simple mathematics and build a timer ??!!!!

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Heh heh...

Nobody sane would use a timer. These days, outrageous delays are the norm - rather than the exception.

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Grenade

Why mess around with comms signals at all ?

it would be trivial to write an app to access my phones GPS stack, and do something when a predetermined lat/long/*alt* is reached ...

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Black Helicopters

@AC 17:02

Sir, you need to come with us please. You obviously display terrorist tendencies.

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Anonymous Coward

good point *alt*

of course a GPS based detonator would know the altitude as well. And it could run a program too. So you have the scenario where a detonator app waits until a phone has passed over a certain location at a certain height, plus any other combination of event you like ... dates, times, counts ...

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In the hold?

I doubt if a GPS in the hold would be working very well, surrounded by all that metal. Of course, a plastic aircraft such as the 787 might be more permeable, but even carbon fibre is conductive and probably enough of a screen.

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