Are in-flight bans on laptops dead and gone?

November 8, 20173 Minute Read

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While the policy of in-flight bans on laptops was lifted in July 2017, those of us in IT still have cause for concern. According to NPR, airlines not updating to the required security practices (better bomb screening technology, more bomb-sniffing dogs, the whole nine) could get hit with an in-cabin electronics ban. Shuddering yet?

Users have a strong desire to work at 30,000 feet, often from multiple devices. Device usage research from Google found that more than half of all users rely on more than one device in your average day, with 20 percent of them using a computer and another device at the exact same time.

Imagine—for just one stress-filled moment—the amount of inbound calls that could arise from an angry user base needing to work in the event of a total airline device ban. How do you explain to users that your hands are tied up by regulation?

More mobile, more IT problems

Although policy-making on the laptop ban will come from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the issue goes deeper than terrorist threats. Laptops, tablets, hoverboards, and e-cigarettes all pose risk because of potentially dangerous batteries. Travelers are flying (and working) more than at any point in history—with more tech than ever.

IT continuously struggles with the balance between ease of use and security. Mobile devices have made working more of a constant, and 81 percent of workers believe they could do their job anywhere. This is an incredible achievement but leaves a lot of vulnerabilities to outside factors.

That said, is working on a plane even a good idea? Beyond the public Wi-Fi issues, you’re basically in a tin can next to a ton of strangers, and your neighbors can easily look at your screen. It’s been discovered that around 90 percent of visual hacking attempts are successful. Devices are vulnerable in tight spaces, and airlines certainly fit the bill.

Beware in-flight bans on laptops—and everything else

The original laptop ban in March 2017, which affected US flights from eight countries in the Middle East and Africa, was due to possible terrorism. While you can continue to do your thing now, and keep your devices close, technology will continue to be a topic of discussion for the DHS. As the exploding Galaxy Note 4 proves, in-flight problems can happen at any time and due to any number of technologies.

No one wants to be in the proximity of devices that could blow up or catch on fire—and we don’t blame them. But passengers should feel good about airline safety records. Yes, air travel isn’t always fun—but it’s pretty damn safe. With the deployment of newer aircraft, 2016 was ranked as one of the safest years for flying yet. This follows a trend of declining airline safety incidents, such as crashes.

Still, airlines not complying with updated security measures could very well be forced to ban all in-cabin devices, and public Wi-Fi vulnerabilities and visual hacking aren’t going anywhere.

Educate, educate, educate

How does all this affect IT management on the ground? What are some tactics to keep data secure with travel? Many of these issues can be easily resolved with education and training. Remote workers aren’t ignorant, they just aren’t always aware of proper security measures. Physical and digital security are teachable topics for IT, and having someone versed in change management can help.

At the end of the day, in the sky or anywhere else, workers need to be aware of:

  • Their surroundings
  • The value of the information they possess
  • The giant headache that is visual hacking

Make sure your users fully realize the balance between security and ease of use and don’t be surprised if there are enhanced restrictions to keep everyone safe (note: This is a good thing). If that means taking away batteries that power devices, hopefully airlines can make power supply accommodations, or we’re all going to be using pen and paper.

Try explaining that to users.

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