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Monday
Aug252003

Monday WiFi Tidbits

Pere Marquette parkFriday at lunch, I decided to meet my good friend (and unix admin) Jon for lunch, to see if we could access the City of Milwaukee's WiFi network in Pere Marquette park (mentioned in earlier posts: Milwaukee: Brats, Beer, Harleys and Wi-Fi Hotspots and Weekend Wi-Fi Tidbits) with a Palm Tungsten C.

Using NetChaser (a utility that scans for WiFi networks), we were successful finding the network itself. The network called 'MILWIFI' had a strong signal, accessible on the bridge just East of the park. We found a picnic table and enjoyed our lunches while trying to log into the WiFi access point. Using Handspring's Blazer, I had no success; I kept getting blank pages. When I switched back to the Tungsten C's built-in Web application the login page for the network came right up. Apparently this welcome page relied on JavaScript, which Blazer doesn't do.

However, after repeated attempts to click the 'accept' button, I kept getting a bad password error on the page. Not quite sure what the deal was, but I suspect the Tungsten C's web browser must have just not supported the right specs for the page. I'd guess the login page was designed with laptops, not handhelds in mind. At least not the Tungsten C. So, while we were successful in proving that the network was active, we couldn't make any use of it. Bummer!

My second tidbit comes from Lorenz Szabo, who forwarded a link to the eye-opening article Dispelling the Myth of Wireless Security by Rob Flickenger (author of the soon to be released Wireless Hacks). Seems that Rob was able to hack into an AirPort Extreme base station within 1.5 hours using a few WiFi utilities -- yes, that includes faking MAC addressing and cracking WEP encryption. Kinda wakes you up to how insecure stock WiFi equipment is. The upshot: don't rely on built in security, but rather, rely on application level security (PGP Mail encryption, Secure FTP, etc.) to protect sensitive information transfers.

Lastly, I should comment on all of the open WiFi networks I've encountered while driving or walking around with the Tungsten C and NetChaser. Craig Froehle has already commented on this at GearBits, listing some of the more interesting access point network names. The most common WiFi network name I've seen is 'linksys' followed closely by 'default'.

While the Rob Flickenger tidbit (above) clearly shows WiFi networks can be hacked relatively easily by high-level users, using MAC address filtering or WEP encryption will at least keep out casual the casual passer-by with a WiFi equipped device. That is unless you don't mind sharing your cable or DSL connection with the world. :-)

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