A journalist has been hacked on a plane while writing an Apple-FBI story

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The journalist Steven Petrow had his computer hacked while on a plane, it was a shocking experience that raises the discussion on privacy.

Experts in the aviation industry are spending a significant effort in the attempt of improving cyber security. The news that I’m going to tell you has something of incredible.

The American journalist and author Steven Petrow, who is now writing for USA Today explained that he was contacted by a fellow passenger on an American Airline flight from North Carolina to Dallas, who told him that he accessed his email account.

“I don’t really need to worry about online privacy,” wrote Petrow. “I’ve got nothing to hide. And who would want to know what I’m up to, anyway?

Petrow is a journalist, not an investigative reporter and is not involved in any specific investigation, so the interest of the alleged hacker appeared very strange to him.


Petrow was writing an article on the “Apple vs FBI” case while he was on the plane, but another passenger was well informed about the work of the journalist.

After the plane landed, the journalist was leaving the plane when a fellow in the same row asked to speak with him.

“I need to talk to you.” the man said. “You’re a reporter, right?” “Wait for me at the gate.”

The journalist waited for the fellow passenger and when met him at the gate asked to explain.

“How did you know I was a reporter?” the journalists asked.

“Are you interested in the Apple/FBI story?” replied the man ignoring the question,

“I hacked your email on the plane and read everything you sent and received. I did it to most people on the flight.” 

As a proof of the hack, the fellow passenger cited the exact content of one the mail he received while in flight.

“One of my emails was pretty explicit about the focus of my story and I had emailed Bruce Schneier, a security expert who had previously written in the Washington Post about this very issue.” wrote Petrow.

During the flight, Petrow worked on the article and sent and received several email messages through the American Airlines Gogo in-flight Internet connection.

The Gogo wireless is American Airlines free internet service provided to passengers. When passengers use it are advised to avoid transmitting sensitive data, but most of the passengers still ignore the risks.

The Gogo service operates in the same ways as most open Wi-Fi hotspots, this means that is important avoid sharing sensitive data while accessing it. on the ground.

Gogo recommends the use of a virtual private network for sending sensitive data, but of course, the journalist ignored this best practice.

The fellow passenger explained the journalist the risks for connecting to open networks.

“That’s how I know you’re interested in the Apple story,” he continued. “Imagine if you had been doing a financial transaction. What if you were making a date to see a whore?”

“That’s why this story is so important to everyone,” he told Petrow. “It’s about everyone’s privacy.”

The man then went away, but the event upset the reporter. His privacy had been violated, the same that happens every day to millions of unaware users.s

“For me, I felt as though the stranger on the plane had robbed me of my privacy—as was explicitly his intent. He took the decision of what to share out of my hands. He went in through the back door of the Gogo connection.