Open wireless networks pose dilemma

Thursday, 6 February 2003, 1:06 PM EST

If you want to know how unsecure today's wireless networks are, just ask the people who make it their mission to locate the access points designated by companies and consumers around the world.

Armed with laptops, special software and some makeshift hardware, these wireless explorers drive through cities, suburbs and business parks in search of the signals that connect computers to wired networks and the Internet. The practice is called "wardriving," a term derived from the "wardialing" tactic of the movie War Games, where a hacker dials every number in an area to find a modem.

"Wardrivers don't pose much of a threat," said Chip Coy, executive consultant for IBM Global Services' Security and Privacy Consulting Practice. "They are collecting information about access points and publishing maps. However, they do show that someone could just pop an antenna on top of their vehicle and get data."

But this open season on wireless networks may be nearing a close. Almost four years after the 802.11b standard now referred to as Wi-Fi was established, wireless equipment makers are nearly ready to sell second-generation products that have better security out of the box.

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