http://www.paloaltoonline.com/paw/paonline/weekly/thisweek/2003_01_01.wireless01.html by Rachel Metz rmetzat_private January 01, 2003 On a chilly Thursday evening in December, Boris Popkoff, 26, and Skot Croshere, 21, saunter into University Coffee CafÈ in downtown Palo Alto with shiny, white Apple iBooks in hand. Clad in a furry, cat-eared hat, Popkoff is hard to miss and Croshere's multitude of metallic accoutrements are definitely eye-catching. They pull up chairs, pop open their laptops, and -- voila -- connect wirelessly to the Internet. Without an abundance of expensive equipment or an Internet Service Provider, Croshere and Popkoff surf the Web all over the Palo Alto area, often by simply driving around and letting their iBooks -- which come with a built-in antenna and optional wireless Internet card -- track wireless connections at homes and businesses. Part of a growing number of people throughout the world who outfox Internet Service Providers and tap into free wireless service, Croshere and Popkoff have essentially integrated laptop Internet access with their lifestyles. By "wardriving" and "warwalking" -- the acts of driving or walking in search of free wireless Internet connections, respectively -- the guys echo a sort of vagabond vibe, taking access where they can get it. "It's just exciting ... now that you can get the Internet everywhere it's really the killer technology," Croshere said. Known as "Wi-Fi," or wireless fidelity, the connections are growing in prominence locally as more individuals either volunteer their Internet service to others or simply don't turn on security measures that would block outside access. The trend has grown to such proportions that the federal government, fearing terrorists could use the technology to their benefit, is gearing up to crack down on illicit Wi-Fi users under the recently passed Homeland Security Act. Despite such setbacks, however, individuals like Croshere and Popkoff continue to roam the streets of the Midpeninsula, hitching free rides on the Internet wherever possible. Together with a group of six friends, Popkoff and Croshere have enjoyed successful wardriving ventures in Palo Alto, Redwood City, Woodside and Menlo Park. They say the number of wardrivers has grown substantially in just a year, and there are plenty of non-encrypted sites where laptop owners in need of driving directions or the latest stock quotes can hop onto a business' or a homeowner's Internet connection. Using free, downloadable programs like MacStumbler and NetStumbler, wardrivers can easily latch onto existing wireless connections that hook computers to the Internet. While such connections eliminate messy wads of computer cables and enable laptop users to move around their home or office more freely, they also enable interception from users not only in other rooms but potentially in other buildings. Popkoff and Croshere use MacStumbler much like a digital radio dial on "seek," scanning radio waves in the computer antenna's range for available connections. With the program, a laptop and an 802.11b wireless Internet card, they can wander around downtown Palo Alto logging dozens of Internet access points -- many of them left open for public use, though not necessarily intentionally. As long as the two refrain from downloading large files like MP3's or full-length movies, the provider's connection should not be affected. In fact, the subscriber may not even notice that additional people are helping themselves to free Internet service. "If you were feeling especially evil (and) if somebody has DSL, you could take up all their bandwidth. But why would you want to do that?" Croshere asked. The premise behind wardriving is nothing new. The actions are named after their '80s cousin, "wardialing," where enterprising techies searched for access to unprotected or insecure computer systems. By instructing a computer to dial given modem numbers repeatedly until one picked up and responded, aficionados could establish a connection between computers. Brought to fame by the 1983 film "War Games," some former wardialers like Croshere now find themselves drawn to the possibilities of Wi-Fi. Croshere, who lives in Menlo Park, said he began wardialing when he was 13 and has tapped into wireless networks for the past three years. His iBook is a constant companion and admits wardriving comes as naturally as breathing. "I can't think of a time when I think, 'OK, I'm going to go wardriving now,'" Croshere said. Popkoff, who lives in Atherton, said an interest in ham radios led to his current interest in radio frequency technology. He began wardriving about a year ago and also carries his laptop with him wherever he goes. After Croshere sent him a link to MacStumbler, Popkoff was hooked. "I just like to collect the login data," Popkoff said, referring to the way MacStumbler logs the names, strengths of the signals and other identifying characteristics of wireless access points. While sitting in the cafÈ, he and Popkoff pick up numerous nearby networks, some of which are "open" and can be used to log on to the Internet and some of which are "closed" and require either a password or some stealthy hacking to enter. "It's really hard to tell where the (signal) is coming from. If you're in downtown Palo Alto it's probably going to come from a small business," Popkoff said, adding, "Most of the time I just get my ya-ya's out knowing that it's there." Aside from his laptop, Popkoff employs other tricks of his trade, namely a 2-foot by 2-foot parabolic antenna. The antenna, which sells for about $80, receives better, stronger wireless connections. Popkoff acknowledged that some wardrivers seeking to boost reception make their own antennas, but he felt a homemade effort would not be accurate enough. "It'll be interesting to see how the technology evolves and how people use it," Croshere said. As the ability to hook up wireless networks grows more accessible -- routers currently sell at local retailers like Fry's Electronics for about $105 -- more and more consumers are getting in on the act. Palo Altan Paul David Gregg, founder of free wireless network Palo Alto Freenet, said old modes of communication like standard telephone systems are dead and ease of communication is paramount. "Being able to freely communicate is very important and being able to freely communicate on the Internet is even more important. I work with people all over the world I've never met ... and I think everybody should have that opportunity," Gregg said. Gregg started building Palo Alto Freenet in late 2001. He put up a simple Web page with a map of the Palo Alto area and a mark denoting his home's wireless Internet access point. "I think it was more of an experimentation -- 'Let's check this out and see if this thing works,'" Gregg said. Soon, lots of locals were e-mailing him to ask how they could get involved with free, wireless Internet in Palo Alto. Currently, about 75 are on the group's mailing list and Gregg said he is one of about 12 people working on deploying wireless nodes around Palo Alto. "My philosophy is you don't need all these big (Internet) carriers. If there's enough points spread around Palo Alto, then you could have this great wireless network," Gregg said. Working with Linux, an open-source computer software, Gregg is building Palo Alto Freenet from the ground up. Since he began, several local technology companies have contacted him expressing interest in paying him to see if the Freenet model can succeed. "It's just amazing the range of people I've met. I know all my neighbors now," Gregg said. Unfortunately for wardrivers and wireless users like Gregg, Popkoff and Croshere, implementation of the Homeland Security Act may throw a monkey wrench in their free-access plans. In early December, Wired Magazine reported the federal government considered wireless access points a threat to national security. Wi-Fi users who do not secure their networks and potentially give others Internet access were threatened with regulation. "That's the silliest thing I've ever heard. A terrorist act -- people are just going crazy with this terrorist thing ... It seems like just a scare thing to me," Croshere said. Jennifer Granick, director of Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society, sees the unauthorized use of open wireless connections as moral and legal. A practicing lawyer and lecturer at the Stanford Law School, Granick said considering unauthorized wireless use a terrorist act amounts to idiocy. "What's illegal is unauthorized access to a computer system. I think it's legal if there is a wireless network and there's no security on it," Granick said. "Certainly you can use the network in a way that reduces the other person's quality of service, and that begins to become a problem, but that's always a problem when you have a shared resource." However, Andrew Johnson, vice president of communications for AT&T Broadband in the San Francisco Bay Area, said allowing outside users access to a high-speed cable Internet line is a clear violation of the company's acceptable use policy. Johnson said AT&T prohibits reselling or redistributing bandwidth, and customers engaging in either practice are subject to having their Internet connections terminated. "One should not dismiss the security issues and the virus issues that are obviously part and parcel of this kind of network that you're talking about," Johnson said. Currently, Johnson is unaware of any local customers that have been cut off from AT&T for sharing their Internet connections, but he said the company feels it will be a larger issue in the future. "We think it will be a big problem, not a big problem but a larger issue than it is now. But at the present time ... It's just starting to gain acceptance with some very high-tech early adopters in the Silicon Valley," Johnson said. As for Popkoff, Croshere and Gregg, they're content to share connections, despite the risks, in favor of possible gains. "It's just so funny when you look back at human history how often we've been on the edge of something great. And this is one of those times," Gregg said. - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu Jan 02 2003 - 18:50:15 PST