Local News

Hackers Can Get Personal Information Using Wireless Technology

Posted July 31, 2002

— Wireless is the future of computer technology. However, security experts are finding the convenience comes with a risk. Your computer could be susceptible to hackers using a process called "war driving."

Using a laptop, a wireless network card and free software from the Internet, WRAL went "war driving" with security consultant Tim Telkamp of Ingenuit-e. Within minutes, we started getting hits near the N.C. State campus.

"We just got five access points. There are five networks that are open just driving down this street," he said.

WRAL then traveled downtown where in a two-block area around the Legislative Building, we found 20 open networks, many of which were easily identifiable as government agencies.

"There's no encryption running on them. They beaconed to me. They told me, 'Hey, I'm here,'" Telkamp said.

Finally, WRAL drove through a residential area and found evidence that many wireless computer users are not taking the time to protect their information.

"Whoever is operating this network pulled it out of the box, plugged it in and said, 'Ah, it works and walked away,'" Telkamp said.

Telkamp said these type of situations is like leaving the door to your home unlocked.

"These unencrypted networks, I could put a sniffer on them. I could actually see your e-mail going back and forth," he said. "I'm going to get to everything on your hard drive, whatever it is -- your financial information, your credit card information."

Ann Garrett of the Office of Information and Technology Services told WRAL that although we found some government networks, the state has several levels of security in place to keep hackers away from the information. Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation said there have been no documented cases in North Carolina of crimes committed through war driving.

To clarify, WRAL only identified computer networks. We did not access them because that would be a federal offense.

According to Telkamp, there are ways to protect yourself from hackers:

  • Change the Service Set Identifier (SSID) -- an identifier attached to packets sent over the wireless local-area network (LAN) that functions as a "password" for joining a particular radio network to something unique and complex. Don't use "TheSmiths" or "SmithLawFirm" or "123MainStreet."
  • Disable the SSID Broadcast.
  • Use Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption. Telkamp said it is not perfect, but it is something.
  • Treat the wireless LAN as public, like the Internet.
  • Use personal firewall software.
  • Turn off your wireless access point when you are not using it.
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