Insurance company CPP sent an ethical hacker to six British cities, where he spent 30 minutes using freely available software to try to hack wireless networks. Though the experiment, which is described in the Telegraph, was conducted in the United Kingdom, there is no reason to believe that the results would be be radically different in the States.
The results are disheartening, and suggest that not much has been learned in the decade or so that Wi-Fi has been popular. The cracker, CryptoCard Executive Vice President Jason Hart, found that just under half of the 40,000 networks he tried to access had either very rudimentary encryption or demanded no password at all. More specifically, the story said, 9,249 asked for no password-despite the fact that 82 percent of people in England believe that networks are secure.
The Telegraph story is not isolated. Last month, Sue Marquette Poremba over at Network Security Edge pointed to a story at Computerworld that raised the same yellow flags. It seems as if time has stood still, in a way. Much of the content of stories-even at sophisticated sites as Entrepreneur-read as if they were written at the dawn of the Wi-Fi age:
Hackers and crackers are everywhere, looking for easy marks. Believe me when I say they're just as likely to hang out at your favorite Starbucks as you are, Ms. Entrepreneur. They could be sitting with a latte and a laptop on the sofa right next to you. And don't look for Boris- and Natasha-style cartoon characters here. ("Fearless Leader say we steal computer access from moose and squirrel!") They are far more subtle than that.
That's certainly good advice. But it seems a bit dated-even besides the reference to the classic but prehistoric "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon. Could it be that 10 years on, folks are still as nave about the dangers of public Wi-Fi, and to such a great degree have ignored the problem?
The Entrepreneur piece, which was written by Mike Belicove, did point out that the technology is changing. He recommends a personal virtual private network (VPN) for those who want to keep working from public hotspots despite the dangers.
PC Magazine offers a slideshow with 10 suggestions on optimizing security on hotspots. The tips: