‘War Drivers’ seek weakness in wireless networks

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(Host) An increasing number of businesses in Vermont are going wireless. Wireless networks offer convenience and mobility by connecting computers without using cables. But experts say these systems can be a vulnerable target for computer hackers. Beginning today a small army of people will be prowling the streets trying to expose the weaknesses of wireless systems.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) It’s called a War Drive. The recruits are part of a loosely knit, worldwide group of computer professionals and interested hobbyists. They’re armed with laptop computers connected to an antenna mounted on their car. They drive around probing for access to wireless computer networks.

Wireless technology is seeing increasing use in Vermont. Because these systems use radio frequencies, experts say they’re easily tapped. Brendan Flaherty is with Summit Technologies in Burlington. Flaherty says he expects some War Drivers will be at work in Vermont:

(Flaherty) “A lot of networks are set up improperly, where the radio signal is not contained and it bleeds through the walls out into parking lots, out to the highway that’s running next to the business. And people can literally – with the right equipment and it’s easy equipment to get – these people can drive by and be accessing your bandwidth within seconds.”

(Zind) War Drivers may seem like a high tech monkey wrench gang, but Flaherty says they’re not hackers. Their aim is to identify vulnerable systems, not break into them. He says by reporting to a central web site on how many weak systems are found, War Drivers raise awareness of the problem.

Mich Kabay is director of the Information Assurance Program at Norwich University. Kabay says not all people who take part in War Drives have good intentions. Some take advantage of the vulnerabilities they find. Kabay says they can do some damage:

(Kabay) “So here we are with what some people call a tunnel into the soft, fleshy underbelly of the company. This is not good. It means that internal traffic, which has no business being distributed to the general public or to competitors, may now be wide open.”

(Zind) According to the State police Computer Crimes Unit, hacking into wireless systems hasn’t been a problem in Vermont, as it has it other states.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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