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the manufacturers' default settings leaving wireless encryption switched
off, thousands upon thousands of wireless connections everywhere are
completely insecure. New breeds of wireless users have started to take
advantage of this 'free' bandwidth appearing everywhere: the wardrivers
and the wireless pirates.
So what's wardriving? Well, to put it simply, it's when someone drives around with their laptop looking for unsecured wireless networks to connect to. This allows people to circumvent the physical security of large companies and connect to their networks: the network is said to be leaking out of the building. Wardriving use to be very difficult, but now there is easy to use software such as NetStumbler that searches for open networks automatically.
Wardriving works well because wireless networks, by default, are set up to provide access to any wireless-enabled computer that comes within range. This is very convenient and easy to use, but also extremely insecure.
The legal status of wardriving is dubious to say the least, but most of the people doing it don't have any malicious intent. There are some, of course, who will abuse the massive amount of bandwidth (download capacity) they can get access and download enormous files at amazing speed. There is also a small minority who may try to use access to a company's network - or even an individual's - for nefarious ends.
It is a point of contention among wireless users whether it is possible to 'pirate' wireless Internet access. Sure, if you go and sit outside someone's house in a car, you're probably doing something you shouldn't be. But what if you just use one of your neighbours' wireless networks instead of paying for your own ISP and Internet connection? Is that wrong?
The trouble is that it is impossible to tell whether an open network has been left that way intentionally or not. Many people have thought it through, and prefer to leave their network open for anyone to use, seeing no harm -- I am one of these people. Others just have no idea how to turn on security.
The problem would be solved overnight if wireless equipment would come with encryption turned on by default (meaning that you would have to change the settings if you didn't want it). Unfortunately, the incompatibility of the two current encryption standards makes this unlikely to happen anytime soon.
In the end, until things change, the answer has to come down to your own individual ethics: you're probably not doing much harm if you use your neighbours' connections, as long as you don't download so much that you cause their connections to go slower.
The line is more blurred, of course, in areas where ISPs charge for access by the gigabyte. If you're not sure one way or the other, it's probably best to stick to your own network.
Should You Be Worried?
Some people are unnecessarily worried when someone tells them that their network is insecure: they think hackers are going to come and steal all their credit card numbers or something. You might even run into people trying to sell you 'wireless intrusion detection' software.
Remember, though, that the Internet is designed to operate over wires that anyone could tap into: all sensitive data is encrypted anyway.
While you don't need to be scared about someone sniffing your web data, though, you should be a little more concerned about any files or folders you have shared. If you don't want to encrypt your network, you shouldn't share anything that you wouldn't want others to see, and you certainly shouldn't give the network write (change) access to anything you don't have a backup copy of.
Of course, if you really want to keep other people off your network, it's not like it's hard to do yourself with a little configuration. Take a look at the next article, 'Dealing with Security Threats: Wireless Encryption', for a brief guide.
Published by Dunway Enterprises
WIRELESS NETWORKING INDEX
Information shown in any of the articles shown above
does not in any way constitute medical, financial or legal advice.
If you require such advice, you should seek appropriate professional guidance.
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