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In computer news this week 05/02/2012
If you saw a Google van in your neighborhood, check your network security
A recent infoweek story talked about how Google has been fined by the FCC for wardriving relating to its street view program.
Google has had a campaign to photograph the world in street view format. You can type in an address on Google maps, and then look at the actual street view of the area, as if you were standing there looking around. You can go up and down streets, see a 360 view, and move closer to objects. This actually is a very useful program.
However, as Google was doing all this – in everyone’s neighborhood – some of their employees were also wardriving - looking for looking for accessible local wireless networks or wireless data traffic, then sniffing and storing the data they're sending and receiving. During a two-year period, Google captured oodles of Wi-Fi data worldwide as part of its Street View program. They have now admitted their mistake, and are paying the FCC a fine of $ 25K. Google’s 2011 revenues were around 38 Billion dollars, so paying this fine is like them apologizing and paying a penny for their bad intentions.
Wardriving is the act of driving around in your car with your portable computer with a wireless networking card in it, trying to find free or unsecured wireless internet connections. As you enter a wireless zone, the network name will show up on your portable, and you can try to log on to any network that shows up – and chances are you might actually be able to get on and surf the internet, using somebody else’s wireless network connection. The only limitation is that you have to stay in that wireless zone, which might cover just a couple city blocks.
With the explosion of wireless networking, you can buy a wireless network hub for well under $100, and you just take it out of the box and hook it up to your high speed cable or modem – run a simple installation program, and then your computers which have wireless networking cards in them can surf the internet from anywhere in your house or yard – you no longer have to plug in to get on the internet.
The problem is that most people don’t implement password security on their new wireless networks, and anybody with a computer in the local area can also get on your network.
The FCC report stated "As Street View testing progressed, Google engineers decided that the Company should also use the Street View for 'wardriving,' which is the practice of driving streets and using equipment to locate LANs using Wi-Fi, such as wireless hotspots at coffee shops and home wireless networks,". "By collecting information about Wi-Fi networks and associating it with global positioning system (GPS) information, companies can develop maps of wireless access points for use in location-based services."
Blame the engineering ethos that's prevalent at high-technology companies like Google. You know the "more is more" mindset: more bells and whistles equals greater goodness.
So if you have a wireless network in your home or office, make sure it’s password protected – to make sure noone or no company is sniffing at your data.
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This is Frank Delaney
(C) 2012 MTA Micro Technology Associates