End Of Airline
Although details are still emerging about al Qaeda's (or its affiliate's) plan to detonate 26 bombs disguised as printer cartridges and planted on commercial cargo planes, there is speculation that the plot's repercussions may extend far beyond tighter cargo screening. This latest attempted attack occurs as the airline industry prepares to offer in-flight entertainment systems permitting Wi-Fi and cell phone use. Now some security experts worry that such in-flight communications could enable terrorists to more easily detonate similar style bombs.
The PETN bombs incorporated cell phones as timers much like the Madrid train bombs did. However, bombers have previously triggered detonations with a text or phone call to fully functional cell phones built into a bomb's detonation circuit. Broadband connectivity during aircraft flight may give terrorists more ways of triggering bombs on aircraft such as via phone call, text, or using voice over internet protocol (VOIP) functionality from sea, ground, or aircraft. In-flight communications has been a growing market with broadband capability expected on approximately 2,000 aircraft by year's end. It seems likely that the United States and other countries will take a second look at such technology in light of this latest terrorist attempt.
While security experts should evaluate whether airline Wi-Fi increases the threat and to what degree, government and industry should not play into terrorists' hands by immediately cancelling these programs without a compelling security need. Civil society must balance risks and responses; terrorists should not succeed in their goals of causing fear and limiting freedom especially as a result of a situation where intelligence and counter-terrorism tactics worked.