Canary Wireless

Canary Wireless

I just received the Digital Hotspotter. It's a tiny little unit that takes 2 AAA batteries and detects WiFi networks.

It's really easy to use, just press the button and it scans for available networks. If there are any it shows the SSID (i.e network name), the channel it's using and whether encryption is being used.

If the network isn't broadcasting the SSID (they called it "cloaked") which really means it's not sending out the name in beacon packets, then it still shows the network, channel and whether WEP is in use or not.

As the device is so small, it's pretty convenient to carry about if you're looking for a hotspot (or want to jump on to someone's wireless network).

Of course using to "steal" someone's bandwidth may not be such a good idea as it may well be illegal (in fact even snooping out a WiFi network can be illegal in some countries). In the UK for example intercepting data that you're not meant to is breaking the law it's covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, of course the likelyhood of you being prosecuted for it are extremely unlikely (if you can be caught in the first place) but that would including decoding the WiFi beacon packets that every WiFi network uses. Once you join a WiFi network (that you're not meant to) you're also breaking the law as you're using computing resource (even just in the Access Point which is having to process the packets your sending) which you're not entitled to be using which is covered by the Computer Misuse Act. Again unless you're doing something seriously wrong, it's unlikely that you'd be prosecuted.

This does bring up the whole security issue, recent reports still show that most WiFi networks are unsecured or on default settings. This is not only dangerous in terms of people having unrestricted access to your network, but also if they are doing something illegal (maybe hacking someone else or down or uploading illegal material such as child pornography) then the Police will come knocking at your door. You may think you're being nice by having an open network, but remember you're responsible for its use.

It's not hard to secure a network, depending on traffic levels WEP can be enough (you need to snoop a reasonable ammount of data to break the WEP codes), someone determined to get in will but it will deter the average user. Of course upgrading to WPA which uses AES (advanced encryption standard) makes it even more difficult. Then if you run things like SSH (secure shell), IPSEC (IP Security) or a secure VPN (virtual private network) on top of the WiFi network it's going to be very difficult ot snoop the traffic. It's even a reasonable policy to run an open WiFi network if the only thing you can do with it is run a secure protocol above it.
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