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Travelers Warned About Lack Of Security With In-Flight Wi-Fi

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- With the summer travel season in full swing, many airline passengers who spend their flights on their phones and computers might want to take precautions with in-flight wi-fi service.

While you may think your personal information is secure, experts say it's surprisingly easy to be hacked mid-air.

When a stranger on a flight stood up and said he needed to talk to Steve Petrow, the USA Today reporter thought it was an odd request.

The request from the fellow passenger surprised Petrow even more.

"I know you're a reporter," Petrow said the passenger told him. "I also know you've been working on a story about Apple."

The man, who had been sitting rows away, knew exactly what Petrow had written on his computer, quoting from several emails.

It turned out that Petrow, who writes about security issues -- had been hacked while using the plane's "Go-Go" in-flight wi-fi service.

The man said he'd hacked many others, but only approached Petrow, who was writing about the FBI's Apple lawsuit to create an iPhone back door.

"He said, 'I'm going to teach you a lesson. This is why it matters,'" remembered Petrow.

Security consultant Manny Gomez says like all public wifi, Go-Go is not secure.

"Airlines are in the business of taking us from a to b via the air," said Gomez. "They are not in the business of providing safe cyber internet security."

Gomez says it's fine to use the Internet to watch movies or surf the web, but users should be aware that someone may be watching your every online move.

"You don't want a hacker to be able to hack into your bank information," said Gomez.

Go Go's terms of use clearly state it "operates like an open wi-fi hotspot." the connection is -- by definition -- "open."

Petrow admitted that -- like most users -- he didn't read the terms.

"I was appalled at how dumb I had been," said Petrow.

He now uses a "virtual private network," or VPN, when using public wi-fi.

At a few bucks a month, Petrow said it's small price to pay to help keep what happens on public wi-fi more private.

Petrow said the hacker was trying to point out why average consumers should be concerned about the government's attempt to force Apple to create an iPhone backdoor.

He points out that if the FBI can get in, so can hackers.

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