Intelligence: September 13, 2002


A new technology has proved a boon to spies, making espionage a lot easer and safer. Cheap, easy to set up wireless networks have hit the market over the last few years. Office networks based on PCs have been around for nearly 20 years. But setting them up has always been a hassle because of the required cables. Wireless networks eliminate the cabling, and two decades of trial and error developing networking software has made the installation and use of these nets even easier. There's just one catch, each base station broadcasts it's signal up to 100 meters. Anyone outside the building with a laptop (equipped with a wireless networking card) can connect to the wireless network and prowl about at will. And it gets worse. Using better antennas, the interloper can pick up the wireless network signal 500 meters (or more) from the transmitter. In theory, you can turn on encryption when you set up your wireless network, but too many (the majority at the moment) nets are turned on without encryption. But even that doesn't protect your network, as the standard encryption has already been hacked. The wireless technology is so cheap and easy to use that it is becoming popular all over the world, and even users who know of the vulnerabilities are often reluctant to give up their snazzy new wireless networks. Government intelligence agencies, and industrial spies are having a great time with this stuff, especially since it doesnt require breaking and entering, bribing someone on the inside or leaving tracks of any kind. It's even possible for a small drone aircraft to circle a location at night or during bad weather, plugging into the wireless network below and grabbing useful information. Developing nations tend to have fewer techies to be aware of, and warn users, about how vulnerable wireless nets are. Thus properly equipped spies can have access to what goes on inside of government offices, even if those PCs are not connected to the Internet. While the spies are keeping quiet about all this, finding, and sometimes using, wide open wireless nets has become something of a hobby for hackers, or anyone with a laptop, some time on their hands, and a bit of curiosity. 


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