Mile-high WiFi, or It's in the air... you decide.

So, I am literally writing this blog from something like 32,000' above the continental US. I don't want to turn on my GPS to get fun things like air speed, direction of travel, or well my location... I have to assume things are shielded in the plane, but after a near-miss with a flight from Austin to Los Angeles a few weeks ago I am not going to tempt fait on commercial airlines. Ironically, they tell me my cell phone is evil but offer WiFi on my airplane. So, I decided to try it assuming it is indeed safe.

Me, and 300 or so of my new friends, are flying in a 747 from LAX to JFK. I am stuck with these new friends for something like six hours. And if they are crafty like me they have brought their power adapters for the airplane and will be goofing with their digital toys for nearly that long. Walking the isles there are the normal collection of techno-gizmos and gadgets. A large number of MacBooks, I am now counted among that massive growing segment of the population, iPods, iTouch, PSPs, video players, Windows based laptops (Mostly still Dell with some ThinkPads here and there, and plenty of BOSE and other knock-off noise canceling headphones. It's quite amazing, but I doubt very much that people who frequent NY to LA flights represent a true snap-shot of today's economy... other than Apple is doing a lot of things right. But that isn't what this blog is about...

So for $12.99 I can use "gogo" (Find them here) for my entire trip. This is fantastic! I have tried all sorts of fun things with this service. I can connect to and watch my slingbox, even watched an entire episode of CSI - NY to get into my "New York State of Mind." Going "home" has never been so much fun! I am able to check email, use my VPN back to the NetAssassin World Headquarters, chat with friends with Adium iChat and Skype. I even did a video conference just for giggles. I soon ran out of things to do, and with my desire to procrastinate on two presentations I have to finish for a security conference in South Africa next month I decided to see what else was happening on the network.

Unlike Starbucks, or any other hotspot, I have a captive audience. No one, unless that bulky shirt on the guy two rows up from me is a parachute, is going anywhere for quite some time. And people are digging this wireless. Now to the credit of gogo, they even supply a pop-up warning that people on this network (e.g. any network really) may be able to see what you are doing and to keep that in mind. YEA! Someone said it! So, I dropped my VPN tunnel that was protecting me and decided to see what was happening with my fellow Mile-High Wifi (What I would have called my company if I did this service) users were up to.

I started by just resetting my mac and letting it behave with no extra security other than what it ships with enabled. This seems to be the way many of the laptops are configured on the flight. I know about a dozen full names of my fellow passengers as of course the default name for any MAC is going to be your something like "Francisco Artes' MacBook Air." This is nice, as I now know names... it's always polite to call people by their name. The PC's aren't as friendly, unless you ask them who owns them. They just tell you their silly PC names.

Some people are sharing files. It's nice to share. I like sharing, I don't do it myself but I will always accept free stuff. I do this with cookies too... I need to stop that habit so I can loose some weight. I have read fun documents for loan applications with all kinds of sensitive data, a few love notes, the normal smattering of personal photos taken... some during some very personal times alone or with others... who am I to fault anyone?! But if you are here for a while, I can look at your largest files too. I don't even need to apparently bother packing DVDs with movies on them anymore, I can just stream the movie files off of other peoples' computers. Quite cool... granted it is also quite dangerous to start streaming a movie file with a non-descriptive name while in a crowded public place like an airplane. I am so happy I have mastered the Command-Q keystroke and can slay those windows with the pr0n faster than others might notice what just popped-up on my screen. But none of this is new, these are things one can do in any hotel, office, hot spot, etc. Just the captive time is more on par with doing this at night in a hotel.

Sniffing... why not try sniffing now. I mean, I know everyone's name, computer make and model and in some cases all their financial information, what grooming choices they have made, and in some cases sexual orientation. So why not listen in a bit and see what they are doing?

I am not the only one geeking-out and chatting up my friends in IM. Many are excited about having their "Mile-High WiFi!" (I should totally TM that one.) But alas, while I had hoped that the open file shares on laptops was an oversight, no one has paid attention to the warning for this either. I won't go into things, I really don't pry and once I see a chat session, or any of the files I mentioned above, I don't really look. Why would I want to... it's rude to listen in on anyone's conversation and this is no different. I was more curious of I could "hear" someone else.

Well that's about it from my Mile-High WiFi connection. I will probably get to those presentations now.