Keep unwanted guests off your wireless net

Monday, 21 October 2002, 3:40 PM EST

During the Great Depression, hobos would mark a nearby fence post or wall with a symbol if they found a safe barn to sleep in, so the next guy could take advantage of the discovery. In a modern twist, some traveling Wi-Fi users mark curbs or walls in locations where they find a freely usable wireless network.

The trend is called war chalking. (It derives its name from the now-ancient practice of war dialing, in which hackers would set their modems to dial every telephone number in town, in search of other modem-connected computers.) Nowadays, some ingenious mobile hackers do a war drive through cities, mapping any wireless network they find as they cruise past at 35 miles per hour. Some return to war-chalk the locations with the best networks.

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