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August 11, 2003

I’m a Thief

We’re renting a condo in Solana Beach, California for the week. After settling in, I flipped open my laptop and it automatically connected wirelessly to the network. Totally seamless, totally effortless — exactly the way the internet should be.

Except for one thing …

The condo didn’t come with wireless internet service. The hotspot evidently belongs a neighbour and, in this rabbit warren of units, I have no idea which one.

Mr. X hasn’t taken any of the steps he could have to secure his wireless network.

  1. Create a “private network”. This is a proprietary extension to the WiFi protocol, special to Orinoco cards (such as the ones used in Apple’s Airport). Since the base station doesn’t advertise its existence, you have to know the SSID to join the network.
  2. Restrict access by MAC address. Only registered hardware can join the network.
  3. Turn on WEP encryption. It’s weak encryption, easily broken but it is safe from casual attempts at access.

Any one of these would have prevented my laptop from automatically joining his network. Even taken together, they might not thwart a determined attacker. But I’m not a determined attacker. I’m just the guy on vacation renting the condo downstairs. And all I did (really!) was flip open my iBook.

So I’m not going to feel too guilty about this. Mr. X is paying a flat rate to Cox Cable for his bandwidth. He evidently doesn’t know or care whether his neighbours are able to “share” his connection.

Or maybe, like all those folks creating freenets and public-access hotspots, he’s just trying to be neighbourly.


Posted by distler at August 11, 2003 6:39 PM

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