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Surface Pro Loans To Address Airline Laptop Ban - But Be Careful

A number of airlines affected by the laptop bans put into place by the US, UK and Australia are turning to loan machines to prevent business and first class customers from losing out on valuable working (or entertainment) time whilst in the air.

Emirates will be loaning passengers Surface Pro 4 devices, whilst Qatar has only stated it will loan laptops and tablets.

Passengers who take up the offer need to be aware of the risks they're taking using a shared machine. The only thing it will be safe to assume is that security on these machines is compromised.

That means anything you do on the machine is an open book to the person responsible for compromising the device. Key loggers, man in the middle session interception, unauthorised certificate authorities, all of these are easily implemented and leave you and your information wide open for exploitation.

Emirates is even encouraging passengers to bring USB drives with their data in order to carry on working on their loan machines. Opening an attack vector into your personal or work laptop next time you plug it in there.

I'm not sure if the airlines have thought this through, or the mitigations in place to reduce the risk of this happening. What I can say with certainty is unless the loan devices are factory reset after each flight there's no way that risk can be totally eliminated.

Given the types of passengers involved and the potential impact to them and the airlines reputations, this seems like a generous move that's not been well thought through.

The only viable option to fix this would be for the airlines to gift passengers a laptop, new and straight out of the box. The risk to passenger and airline drops to zero and passengers maintain the ability to be productive in flight.

For business class and first class users there should be enough headroom in the ticket price for the airlines to provide a reasonably usable laptop - especially at the discounted price a transaction of this volume would imply.

Unless this happens though, I would strongly suggest avoiding the use of these loan devices. Use your phone if you can. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the service and in flight entertainment.


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