Gogo inspects secure Web traffic in attempt to limit in-flight video streaming

In-flight Internet provider Gogo replaces the HTTPS certificates on sites like YouTube with self-signed ones

In-flight Internet provider Gogo is inspecting its users' traffic exchanged with secure sites by replacing those sites' HTTPS certificates with self-signed ones.

The company argues that this procedure, which is technically a man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack, is only performed for some video streaming sites as part of its efforts to limit or block the use of such services.

The issue came to light after Adrienne Porter Felt, an engineer and researcher with Google's Chrome security team, noticed a rogue HTTPS certificate when she tried to access youtube.com via Gogo's Wi-Fi service during a flight.

Porter Felt posted a screen shot of the certificate issued by Illinois-based Gogo on Twitter asking the company why it had replaced YouTube's real certificate. Her message sparked criticism of Gogo from other users.

The company responded Monday with a statement from its executive vice president and chief technology officer, Anand Chari.

"Right now, Gogo is working on many ways to bring more bandwidth to an aircraft," Chari said. "Until then, we have stated that we don't support various streaming video sites and utilize several techniques to limit/block video streaming. One of the recent off-the-shelf solutions that we use proxies secure video traffic to block it. Whatever technique we use to shape bandwidth, it impacts only some secure video streaming sites and does not affect general secure internet traffic. These techniques are used to assure that everyone who wants to access the Internet on a Gogo equipped plane will have a consistent browsing experience."

Chari assured customers that no user information is being collected when such techniques are applied -- an obvious concern with MitM traffic inspection. Because the company's proxy system is positioned between the user and the sites whose certificate it replaces, it can see authentication cookies that can provide access to users' accounts on those sites and other potentially sensitive information.

It's not clear how efficient the use of this man-in-the-middle technique is at limiting video streaming, nor if it's even necessary. When encountering a self-signed certificate, most browsers display an error and users have to manually agree that they want to continue to the website.

In the case of Google Chrome, which keeps a list of trusted certificates associated with popular sites, including youtube.com, as part of a mechanism called certificate pinning, the error is persistent and hard to bypass.

"Users can't normally click through this particular warning," Porter Felt said on Twitter. "You gotta know the secret sauce to force it to load the page."

This means that for many users YouTube streaming won't be just throttled, but completely blocked, and if that's what the company aimed for, there are easier ways to achieve it without inspecting secure traffic.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags online safetyGooglesecurityencryptionGogoprivacy

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?