MorningWord 4/16/15: The Cyber Security of Things $GOGO

by Dan April 16, 2015 9:37 am • Commentary

Despite the fact that we have a one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent (.000014%) chance of actually dying on a commercial plane flight, a lot of air travelers have to suppress their irrational fears every-time they board a plane.

Per the odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 14,000, by Tornado 1 in 450,000, by Lightning 1 in 1.9 million and by U.S. commercial jet airline, 1 in 7 million (key word there U.S.).

It doesn’t help that we have witnessed three massive air tragedies that have been hard to explain in the last year. One plane disappeared without a trace, yet to be found, another shot out of the sky by a military missile, and another deliberately crashed into the side of a mountain. All horrible tragedies with no survivors. Each causing immediate additions to security measures, and increased traveler anxiety. Which is why stories like this from Reuters: U.S. airliners could be vulnerable to in-flight hacking -GAO  are a little scary.

The main take-away is that the faster wi-fi we have long desired in-flight could be the loophole for a terrorist cyber attack. What we also know from recent history is that the fear of a commercial airliner being used as a missile is not something governments take lightly.

Yesterday, CNBC had cyber-security experts on to discuss the GAO report, and frankly I am surprised that they story didn’t get more play. Is should at least cause investors to think twice about GOGO, the provider of most in-flight wi-fi which is up 27% on the year.

I have no position in GOGO, but I am a user of their service whenever I can. We often talk about the “internet of things.” But as more and more things become connected to the internet, the greater the cyber security threat that exists. Think of it this way. If it can connect at all to the internet at large, it can be hacked.

Thank Oprah that our nuclear missiles run on floppy disks:


I assume Russia’s is even older. And that makes them safe because they’re not connected to current technology. That’s cyber security through obsolescence.

Planes used to be that way. (Our air traffic control system still doesn’t even have GPS as sophisticated as your car). But that is changing. And as the system and planes upgrade to new technology the more vulnerable they become.

And this is not some spy novel fiction either. Hacking things is already happening amongst nation states. Most famously the U.S. deployed Stuxnet to disable Iran’s nuclear centrifuges by simply leaking the virus into the supply chain of devices (like Siemens) that were used in that nuclear facility knowing that it would quickly reach its intended target through the internet.

Since we know that nation states are already doing this sort of thing it’s only a matter of time until that starts being plausible for non state actors like well funded terrorist groups to start to try to figure out how to take control of a commercial plane from the ground.

I suppose I could forgo in-flight wi-fi if it was proven to be a current security threat. And all in all, it wouldn’t take much for the FAA to pull the plug on in-flight wifi until this vulnerability is completely fixed.  That would be a massive crash and burn for GOGO, a company that despite 20% revenue growth is not expected to turn a profit until 2018. I have no position in GOGO, and I am not sure that this report is enough to initiate a short, it seems there are plenty already as the stock has 35% short interest, but if the story were to catch more attention (like in Congress) and start to be used to scare people on 24 hour news, this stock could be a mid teenager in short order.