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How iPhone’s AirDrop Was Used (Again) To Terrorize Plane Passengers

Nine people were arrested in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport yesterday for an incident that terrorized passengers on a plane taxiing before takeoff. As an AndoluJet flight was readying to fly to Istanbul, photos of airline crashes inexplicably popped up on some passengers’ iPhones via the AirDrop file-sharing feature.

The terrified passengers alerted the crew and the plane returned to the gate. One woman fainted, and another had a panic attack, reports Reuters. Authorities conducted a security check of passengers and luggage, and the plane eventually took off hours late.

But not before police removed and arrested nine passengers, who could be prosecuted for disseminating false information, which carries a maximum three-year prison term in Israel. The motivation for the stunt is unknown, but a spokesman for the Israel Airports Authority told Reuters that incident on the AndoluJet flight was not a cyberattack over the Internet.

In a similar incident last summer, a United Airlines plane was evacuated at San Francisco International Airport after several passengers received an unsolicited photo of a gun on their iPhones via AirDrop. In that case, the culprit was a teen passenger who had disseminated an image of an Airsoft gun, a replica firearm that shoots nonlethal, plastic pellets.

Since its introduction in 2011, AirDrop has allowed iPhone users send photos, videos, and more using a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Apple devices can send unsolicited files to strangers located up to 30 feet away if their phones’ AirDrop feature is set to receive files from “Everyone.”

Most iPhone users who use AirDrop choose to share files with individuals on their contact lists, and there are some practical, legitimate reasons for mass-sharing files using AirDrop. For example, a speaker at a trade show might use AirDrop to distribute a PDF to a large group of attendees who are not contacts. Or a business owner may use AirDrop to share a file to everyone in an employee meeting.

But AirDrop has another legacy; teens have engaged in mass image sharing via AirDrop for years, often to prank unknowing individuals nearby.

Apple device users can control who can send them files via AirDrop by adjusting the feature’s receiving setting. On your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings, tap General, then AirDrop. Choose one of three options: Receiving Off, Contacts Only, or Everyone.

Alternatively, you can open the Control Center by either swiping down from the upper-right corner of the screen or swiping up from the bottom of the screen, depending on the version of your device. Next, touch and hold the network settings card in the upper-left corner of the screen until you can view your AirDrop setting.

In March, an Alaska Airlines flight was delayed at Orlando International Airport by over an hour after a 10-year-old prankster AirDropped a threat. Passengers onboard said police surrounded the flight armed with submachine guns and eventually sussed out that the threat was not credible.

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