Two weeks ago I attended SIGCSE 2012 in Raleigh, NC. The plane on my return flight had Internet access through Gogo’s Inflight Internet. While I think it’s incredibly awesome that Internet access is readily available to those who travel by plane, I personally feel it is not worth $12.95 for a few hours of access. Nevertheless, I figured I’d simply connect to Gogo’s network to see what sort of access was permitted to non-authenticated, i.e., non-paying, users. What I discovered surprised me: I was able to gain access to the entire Internet.

Immediately from links on their landing page it was apparent that Gogo permitted access to its own website, as well as the airline’s website and a few other third-party sites such as Living Social, and Eventful. Attempting to access any other website resulted in a redirect to Gogo’s landing page. Gogo appears to accomplish this by responding with an HTTP redirect to any standard HTTP request, i.e., port 80, that is sent to a non-permitted IP address.

Two common techniques for bypassing pay-for-wireless providers are TCP-over-ICMP and TCP-over-DNS. In a nutshell, TCP is the protocol required to browse the web, ICMP is the protocol used by the command ping to determine if a host is available, and DNS is required to resolve domain names like to an IP address. When TCP is not completely available yet either ICMP or DNS is, then it is possible to encapsulate TCP connections over the other available protocol. Gogo blocked my ping attempts, hence TCP-over-ICMP was not possible. However, while Gogo doesn’t permit direct access to external DNS servers, Gogo’s DNS server recursively resolved the DNS queries I made. Therefore, Gogo appears to be susceptible to TCP-over-DNS. Despite not being able to verify this finding, I will simply state that Gogo can remedy this, if necessary, by only responding to white-listed DNS queries for non-authenticated users.

As a quick aside, I would like to mention I made an attempt to responsibly disclose this information to Gogo prior to posting this article [1, 2]. I contacted one of their twitter representatives via email who informed me the right person would contact me. After a few days with no response, I sent a follow up email to the same twitter representative. While that representative has continued to tweet since my followup, I have received no replies. Thus, I have come to the conclusion that Gogo is uninterested. I proceed with the knowledge that this authentication bypass in no way compromises Gogo’s security; therefore, it is of negligible importance to Gogo’s existing customers. Finally, I proceed knowing very well that Gogo’s sysadmins can correct the underlying problem in a very brief period of time and I even present them with the solution.

Now back to the good part!♫

I use Google Chrome as my primary browser and along with it I have installed a few extensions that depend on connections to various Google services. When Chrome is open and does not have a connection to the Internet, some of these extensions, such as the Google Reader Notifier, adjust their icon to indicate their disconnected status. As expected, the Google Reader Notifier extension indicated that I was not connected to the Internet. However, as I was browsing around Gogo’s landing page and permitted sites, I was shocked when the Google Voice extension notified me of a new text message and shocked again when I successfully replied. I had mistakenly stumbled across a hole in Gogo’s access policies and decided to dig deeper.

As I previously mentioned, Gogo redirected to their landing page upon any standard HTTP request. However, the same was not true for HTTPS connections, which by default occur on TCP port 443. Thus, for some unknown reason, my computer was able to connect to via HTTPS. Immediately I tried other Google services, like for Gmail, and for Google docs; neither worked. Nevertheless, any Google service accessible via HTTPS and addressed under the domain worked flawlessly.

After poking around to find a list of Google services meeting these requirements, I had an epiphany. While I probably learned this information at some point in my past, I had a hunch that Google’s front-end web servers would likely provide the correct response to any Google web service. Hence, I opened up my /etc/hosts file on my OS X machine, and added the following line:

Voila! Immediately, I was able to access Gmail. The IP address,, corresponds to the IP address my computer was successfully able to connect to in order to access services under the domain. By adding this manual entry to my hosts file, I informed my operating system to use the provided IP address when attempting to connect to In order to additionally receive successful access to Google+, YouTube, Google Docs, Google Code, and Google’s chat interface, I updated the line to the following:

What I previously described is how I was able to bypass Gogo’s Inflight Internet Authentication in order to access a number of Google services for free. What remains is how to utilize this information to access the entire Internet. The answer to this question lies with Google AppEngine.

Google AppEngine (GAE) is a cloud-based web application hosting service provided by Google. Anyone can run a GAE application on Google’s servers. As I previously described, Google’s front-end web servers respond to requests for any Google web service, including third-party GAE applications. The final piece of the puzzle is that GAE allows its applications to themselves make web requests. Therefore, a well written GAE application can operate as a proxy server. In fact, there are a number of available packages for running simple GAE proxy servers. Digital Inspiration and Windows Guides each provide tutorials for setting up such proxies. The Windows Guides tutorial even links to a working example at A user of Gogo’s Inflight Internet need only add to their hosts file in order to utilize this proxy to access much of the Internet.

I have previously described how Gogo’s Inflight Internet authentication can be bypassed through the combination of a custom hosts file and a GAE proxy server. The remainder of this article will detail how Gogo can fix this problem.

The root question, is: why does Gogo allow non-authenticated access to some Google IPs? While my answer to this question is purely speculation, the solution I offer will absolutely solve the problem. I speculate that Gogo allows access to some Google IPs because of Google Analytics and Google Adsense, indicated in client scripts by the domains and respectively. If correct, Gogo’s sysadmins simply white-listed a few too many IP addresses. Regardless, the point is moot because any Google front-end web server IP address, including those for Analytics and Adsense, will serve the reply for all Google web services, most notably GAE applications. Hence, by white-listing any single Google front-end web server IP address, Gogo is essentially providing access to the entire Internet. It follows, that the simplest solution to this bypass is for Gogo to completely disable direct access to Google IPs from non-authenticated users.

While the above solution absolutely works, it prevents Gogo from tracking users and serving ads using Google services. Of course, serving ads is pointless when non-authenticated users cannot visit the target site of the advertisement, so let’s forget about Google Adsense. Google Analytics on the other hand, is a useful tool for monitoring users’ access to a website. Let’s now proceed under the assumption that it is essential for Gogo’s non-authenticated users to have access to whatever Google service Gogo intended to allow, and for simplicity assume it is the Google Analytics tracking service. The question now is: how can Gogo allow access to the Google Analytics tracking service without allowing access to all other Google services? This answer partially lies with Server Name Indication.

Server Name Indication (SNI) is implemented on most modern web browsers and allows a web server with a single IP address to serve multiple TLS certificates. The proper certificate is returned in response to the hostname provided in the TLS client handshake. The use of SNI is why, despite using the same IP address for all the aforementioned services, Google is able to return the appropriate domain-specific TLS certificate. Therefore, Gogo can additionally white-list on the SNI-hostname in order to prevent the authentication bypass and still allow access to Google Analytics. However, things are not so simple, as Google’s servers do not depend on the presence of the SNI-hostname in the TLS client handshake.

In the absence of SNI, Google’s front-end web servers return the default TLS certificate for that particular server, yet, the server still responds with the requested content as indicated in the HTTP host header. Because the HTTP host header is encrypted, as well as the entire response, it is not possible to discern desired requests from undesired requests. One solution is to only allow such access to Google Analytics if the client supports SNI and the SNI-hostname is in the white-list. While this approach would work, it appears it would restrict access to Google Analytics for some browsers that are still commonly used.

Regardless, I suspect that Google’s front-end web servers do not verify consistency between the SNI-hostname and the HTTP host header. Under that assumption, it would still be possible, in the presence of an SNI-hostname white-list, to bypass Gogo’s authentication with a custom browser (or local proxy server) that negotiates TLS handshakes using only the expected SNI-hostname yet still makes the desired Google web service request. While I don’t believe anything is readily accessible to make this process easy for 99.9% of Gogo’s potential customers, it only requires a single person’s determination to make it so. Thus, the only be-all-end-all solution to prevent this bypass is for Gogo to completely disable direct access to Google IPs from non-authenticated users.

There is, of course, one other possible solution: Gogo could man-in-the-middle the desired Google web services in order to perform filtering on the HTTP host header. However, this approach could have unforeseen consequences. Therefore, I do not recommend it.

In conclusion, I have described how one can currently bypass Gogo’s Inflight Internet authentication to access much of the Internet using a custom host file and a Google AppEngine proxy. I have also described how Gogo can somewhat block this bypass by supplementing their IP white-list with both an SNI requirement and an SNI-hostname white-list. Finally, I speculated that even with the aforementioned solution, it would still be possible for a determined user to bypass their authentication. Thus, I stated the only real solution is for Gogo to not allow any direct access between non-authenticated users and Google web servers.

Happy “free” surfing, for now anyway :)


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