http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/business/2925664.htm By Reid Kanaley Inquirer Staff Writer Mar. 24, 2002 Russell Handorf was in a no-parking zone, but so what? His laptop computer, propped against the steering wheel, had his full attention. Handorf was probing the wireless-computer networks humming around Center City, trying to sneak his way online. "I'm on the Internet," he finally proclaimed on this recent afternoon. "Whaddya know. . . . This is a fast connection, too." Utilizing the credit-card-size wireless adapter plugged into the side of his laptop, Handorf, 22, of the city's Queen Village section, had gotten onto the Net by tapping into the computer system of an unsuspecting business among the nearby office towers. It is something anyone with the right equipment and some high-tech smarts can do - all it takes is a laptop computer, a $100 adapter card, and a free piece of software that sniffs out the wireless Internet connections leaking out of many office buildings. Thusly equipped, a would-be Internet surfer can sit on a park bench or in a coffee shop next door to an office building and go online - on some nearby company's dime. It sure beats paying $45 a month for cable-modem service, though the legality of the practice is untested. Part hacker, part evangelist for high-speed wireless Internet access, Handorf is one of a growing number of computer enthusiasts touting the problems and promises of wireless networking. One of the problems is the new sport Handorf was demonstrating. Variously called war driving, net stumbling, LAN jacking and drive-by hacking, it is focused on breaking into the so-called Wi-Fi networks that are popping up in more and more offices and homes. Wi-Fi networks have become do-it-yourself simple to install, and they eliminate the need for cables when connecting computers together in a network to share files, printers and Internet connections. The wireless hardware typically comes with security features - password protection and encryption - that can prevent intrusions. The trouble is, at least 60 percent of those who set up the fast-proliferating systems never bother to turn the security features on, leaving their networks open to use by almost anyone within range, according to John Pescatore, network-security analyst at the research firm Gartner Inc. So someone within a few hundred feet of an unprotected Wi-Fi network can use it to surf the Net - often undetected by the home or office whose network was borrowed. War driving is "very common. Anyone who is a tech-savvy geek with a laptop and a wireless NIC [network interface card] is capable of doing it," said Handorf, a Memphis, Tenn., native with eyeglasses and close-cropped blond hair, who is studying business at Peirce College. He said he would not mind landing a job in computer security. A few resourceful practitioners have reported using Pringles potato-chip cans as makeshift antennas to zero in on the small Wi-Fi transceivers. A Web site, NetStumbler.com, whose users log their discoveries of wireless networks, has mapped the locations of 15,000 Wi-Fi access points around the United States, and 85 percent of them are open, said Wayne Slavin, the site's Webmaster. About 100,000 people have downloaded the site's free software for detecting Wi-Fi signals, he said. Generally, computer-network intrusion is illegal under federal computer-crime statutes, but no cases involving hacking of wireless systems have been prosecuted, Department of Justice spokeswoman Casey Stavropoulos said last week. Curbside at 16th and Market Streets, Handorf checked his newly borrowed Internet connection by clicking open the America Online instant-messaging program. Immediately he was hailed with online greetings from his girlfriend, who was sitting across town at her home computer. "Where are you?" she wanted to know. "Somewhere on Market St.," he typed in. "Showing off," the girlfriend chided. Managers of two networks that played unwitting hosts to Handorf said last week that they were beefing up security on their systems after learning of his demonstration for this article. Both insisted that intrusion-blocking hardware and software, or firewalls, were active on their systems and would have prevented Handorf from breaking into the sensitive parts of their computer networks. One said his company had set up the wireless network four months ago so that workers could get laptop access from coffee shops in the firm's South Street neighborhood. Though wireless surfing on the sly remains primarily a diversion for computer enthusiasts, grassroots groups in New York City, San Francisco and other cities, spurred by the notion of democratizing high-speed Net access, are encouraging wireless owners to leave their Wi-Fi systems open for use by neighbors and laptop-toting passersby. The prospect for such service is "ridiculously exciting," said Drew Celley, an unemployed systems administrator who is trying to organize free wireless access in Pittsburgh. Gartner's Pescatore said the rationale for voluntary free wireless access is analogous to saying: "If everybody left their porch lights on, we wouldn't need street lights." By cruising through Philadelphia with his computer, a global-positioning-system device, and the network-sniffing software from NetStumbler, Handorf said, he has logged the locations of hundreds of wireless-access points in the region. "Who would have thought?" he asked. And while he has used some of those networks for Web surfing, it is "out of respect" that he does not attempt to invade his hosts' computer files. After this recent tour of the city to listen for "heartbeats," as Handorf called the identifying signals sent out by the Wi-Fi systems, he studied the Web site of one of the companies whose network he had accessed. "I wonder if they have any job openings," he said. Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5026 or rkanaleyat_private - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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