Secure your Wi-Fi networks now!

Last time I visited an Internet cafe in Bangalore to scan a few documents I was in for a surprise. They asked for a photo ID before they offered me any service, even if it is just to scan a couple of documents to my USB stick. That is a good thing - makes it difficult for terrorists to operate and communicate.

This person apparently had his WiFi network wide open for anyone to access and abuse it. It is suspected that terrorists used his network or mail account to send a warning email hours before the blasts in Ahmadabad where about 54 people were killed.

He says "I'm not an IT professional. I have no idea how all that works". It is as good an excuse as saying "I am not a locksmith. I have no idea how to lock my doors". Search google or ask a friend.

Some amount of blame rests with folks who make these Wi-Fi devices and not making them easy to operate in a secure by default mode.
Comments:

"That is a good thing - makes it difficult for terrorists to operate and communicate."

It is not a good thing. These things only increase the issues faced by legit folks, and do almost nothing to prevent terrorism. Highly recommend Bruce Schneier's essays on the subject

Posted by Anil on July 30, 2008 at 05:06 AM PDT #

"It is as good an excuse as saying "I am not a locksmith. I have no idea how to lock my doors"."

No. A lock is a simple device. Wi-fi security is anything but simple. If wi-fi devices had a single large red button on the top that said "lock network", then you would have a valid point. A more realistic comparison would be, "I am not a locksmith. I can't construct a lock from component parts and file my own key."

Posted by ctwise on July 30, 2008 at 06:09 AM PDT #

There are many restaurants which have open Wi-Fi networks as a convenience for their customers. Since their primary business is serving food, I can't imagine that they'd want to go to the hassle of policing a secure network - checking id's and handing out keys and such. The utility of such networks is vested in the fact that they are open so securing them is a problem. Yes, they could be used by terrorists because they are public access. On the other hand, personal networks such as those in homes should be secured. If someone uses your network for nefarious purposes the authorities may come searching your home and computer.

I'm sympathetic to the poor soul who is no computer expert that plugs in a Wi-Fi router at home and doesn't know to secure it. Why should he need to know about such things? It would be best to ship the routers in a secure mode by default and just hand the user a key which can be used to connect to the network. If you actually want a public network, you should have to set that up deliberately.

Posted by Rand on July 30, 2008 at 11:12 PM PDT #

Unless the person checking the photo ID is an expert in identifying fake documents it does nothing. Even experts can't often identify a fake document in the amount of time that would be acceptable in such a transaction. What types of photo ID are acceptable ? What about non government issued, would the person checking be able to tell the difference between a real and fake UK drivers license ?

Posted by Darren Moffat on July 31, 2008 at 08:28 PM PDT #

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