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Aircraft bombs may mean end to in-flight Wi-Fi, mobile

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The ability to use Wi-Fi and cellphones on planes may be curtailed just as it was about to take off, following an aviation threat uncovered last week.

Plastic explosives found in laser printer cartridges that traveled from Yemen to the UK and Dubai were connected to cellphone-based detonation circuits, prompting concerns that the bombs could have been triggered by calling or texting the handset, New Scientist and other publications said. New Scientist quoted several security experts who said the discoveries cast doubt on the wisdom of allowing in-flight communications involving the internet or cellphones.

Using voice over IP, text messages, or a simple phone call to trigger an explosion would give airborne suicide bombers new and potentially more reliable methods to detonate their deadly payloads. It might also allow terrorists on the ground to do much the same thing.

The speculation comes as in-flight internet services were just taking flight. About 2,000 passenger aircraft are expected to offer satellite broadband service by the end of the year, compared with a couple dozen in 2008. Mobile carriers point out there are plenty of other ways to detonate a bomb, and say that phones don't constitute any additional threat.

There is no evidence the people behind the bombs found in the UK and Dubai planned to detonate them remotely using the cellphones. The handsets may have been used as timers only.

The New Scientist article is here. ®

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