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Neighborhood WiFi Security 328

picaro writes to tell us the New York Times has an interesting piece about the abundance of open wireless connections available due to the lack of the average user's knowledge. The article also takes a look at how the prevalent attitude is that tapping in to these connections does not equate to stealing and why still other may disagree. From the article: "Piggybacking, the usually unauthorized tapping into someone else's wireless Internet connection, is no longer the exclusive domain of pilfering computer geeks or shady hackers cruising for unguarded networks. Ordinarily upstanding people are tapping in. As they do, new sets of Internet behaviors are creeping into America's popular culture."
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Neighborhood WiFi Security

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  • by necro2607 ( 771790 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:49AM (#14856806)
    I think it's probably because the fairly large percentage of low-bandwidth users (simply email & minimal surfing, no mp3s/videos/p2p) would be a total loss of profit to the ISPs, if they started charging based on actual bandwidth usage.

    They can make an unbelievable amount of money because while the ISP might pay for their connection by bandwidth used, their users (you and I) are paying a flat-rate (and probably artificially large) monthly fee regardless of bandwidth usage.

    What I'm trying to get across is, they can charge a nice high monthly fee, which might easily cover, let's say, 20gb of up/down bandwidth per month. If an ISP's user is only using 1-2gb per month for their email, random family photo attachments, and maybe a few mp3s from iTunes... Well.. the ISP just got enough money to cover 20 gb of bandwidth, but only 2gb were used.

    This situation has existed for a very long time in regards to net access - since dialup net access because a common thing, essentially. I remember fixing a family's computer and for whatever reason having to check out their dialup account configuration at their ISP. I noticed they only spent like 10 hours online per month, but of course their package allowed something like 100 hours. The ISP surely loved them...
  • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @07:50AM (#14856807)
    A lot of ISPs here in the UK do indeed offer plans with a monthly bandwidth usage cap. If you exceed the cap, you pay for the extra you use, generally in 1GB chunks. I beleive that some ISPs offer the user the choice to have their access cut off if they exceed the cap, rather than be charged for more.

    Those plans tend to be a little cheaper than the uncapped ones, but not by as much as you might expect. For example, I have an uncapped plan, which is only a couple of pounds more per month than my parents' capped plan (same connection speeds, same ISP).
  • by necro2607 ( 771790 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @08:07AM (#14856857)
    Actually, it is 100% possible for you to set up traffic bandwidth shaping so that any particular IP is only allowed a certain amount of bandwidth, for example.

    Use a UNIX-like machine as a router/firewall for your network, and you suddenly have amazingly detailed networking possibilities within your reach. I strongly suggest reading the Linux Network Administrator's Guide []. Even though it's getting a little outdated it has some downright cool-ass information within.

    Of course, few users are technically adept enough to actually set up a router like this, but I'm sure it has been used a lot for people who want to keep their wifi access "open", but safely limited.

    On a related note there are pre-built linux firewall packages out there [] which will surprisingly easily allow you to do what I was just talking about.

    Also, here is the Linux Advanced Routing & Traffic Control HOWTO [] ... It's a bit technical but a useful resource nonetheless.
  • by lga ( 172042 ) * on Monday March 06, 2006 @08:11AM (#14856869) Homepage Journal

    Many ISPs in the UK now actually give out free wireless routers with a new broadband connection - it is seen as an extra draw for new customers and a marketing advantage to get them to sign up for more expensive packages. And no, most are not encrypted by default.

    BT Broadband [] give away a wireless modem with their more expensive connections and Wannadoo [] include a wireless router and claim that it is secure, although I haven't tried it.

  • by richy freeway ( 623503 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @08:49AM (#14857002)
    They don't mean that you CAN'T use more than one computer, just that they won't support such a setup. If you ring their tech supp and you're using anything but the standard hardware they sent you (usually a USB modem) they'll refuse to help.
  • by grimJester ( 890090 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @08:49AM (#14857003)
    It works fine in Helsinki, Finland. The bikes are just bad enough that no one would seriously consider stealing one, but they still beat walking.

    It didn't work out in Turku, Finland. They all eventually ended up in the river.
  • by loic_2003 ( 707722 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @10:01AM (#14857346) Homepage
    It didn't work in Jersey, UK. Parts of bikes were stolen (need new brake pads on a budget?) or kids/'hooligans' would trash them and treat them really badly. Drunken people also had a penchant for saving a few quid and using the freebee bicycles to get home. It was considered a risk, and wrecked bikes were becoming a public nuisance, so the scheme was stopped.

    Incidentally the bikes here were painted green and it was known as 'the green bike scheme'.
  • by adam.dorsey ( 957024 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @10:21AM (#14857466)
    I believe that you can get firmware for the linksys WRT54G boxes that let you throttle guests...

    Yup. It's called HyperWRT [] and it runs on the WRT54G version 1 through 4 and the WRT54GL (which is basically just a rebranded v4; the v5 doesn't use Linux cause Linksys figured out that they could charge extra for making something hackable) and the WRT54GS. There's also a version for the WAP54G access point called HyperWAP [].

    It lets you do QoS, boost wireless output power, telnet in to change settings, and all kinda of other cool stuff that you'd never think that little blue box could do.

    Check the forums for the latest releases; the official maintainance has been really slow lately, so other people are picking up the slack (I use a build by a guy named tofu)
  • by grumling ( 94709 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @10:21AM (#14857470) Homepage
    1) the ability to easily set up a DMZ. I can firewall off my internal network easy enough, but if we want Joe User to do it, it needs to be easy and obvious to set up a free area that is distinct from the walled off internal network.

    Well, give 'em some time. It is easy enough with an industrial grade (IE: Cisco) router. The Linksys stuff will get there eventually. Actually, there is a DMZ option on my Linksys. It should be easy enough to set up a second router on its own subnet and plug the AP into it. But I know what you mean, Joe Sixpack would never be able to figure that one out.

    2) Bandwidth throttling based on the above mentioned DMZ. If you are in the DMZ, you may use x% of the available bandwidth. If you are on the internal network, regular rules apply.

    See above.

    3) Hot chicks in every box.

    Already there: []

    4) Mesh network capabilities. Each unit should seek out other units in range and create an ad hoc mesh network. This would be the first step toward taking the Internet back from the corporations currently in control.

    Does anyone know of a real world mesh network? Not a test, not some grad student's thesis, but a real, I can buy/download software today mesh net?

    5) Real range. I mean like at least 50 yards, but I'd prefer a lot more. When it comes to range, there is no "too much" only "not enough".

    There are 2 ways to increase range: Increase power levels (not permitted due to FCC rules), or decrease noise (get rid of all those microwave ovens, cordless phones, other APs, and the sun). WiMAX may change this, since it will be possible to license bandwidth, but I doubt that non-incorporated Americans will be able to get one.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:21AM (#14857892) Homepage
    Just found out about this []. Pretty funny.

  • by DodgeRules ( 854165 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:45AM (#14858158)
    The article also takes a look at how the prevalent attitude is that tapping in to these connections does not equate to stealing and why still other may disagree.

    Remember the Slashdot article [] about the man arrested in St Petersburg, Florida [] for stealing wireless internet access from another man?
  • by jrockway ( 229604 ) * <> on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:59AM (#14858291) Homepage Journal
    > Just wondering, who is your ISP? Sounds like either a great deal or very expensive.

    It's Speakeasy, and (in my area), they're not much more than everyone else. I pay $75/month for 1.5M/384k, which is probably expensive by most people's standards -- but you get what you pay for. (They also have 6M/768k for like $5 more... but my local telco won't let them offer that here.)

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva