Feeds

Wireless insecurity: do not use the cheerleader defence

Don't try this at home, folks

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Comment The message boards are alive with misguided advice about wireless networks. Switch off your security, they say: you’ll get away with murder.

It follows the news that the music industry has dropped a lawsuit against Tammie Marson of Palm Desert, California. Marson argued that the fact that her computer contained illegal music files downloaded over her internet connection was not proof of a crime. As a cheerleader teacher, she said, hundreds of girls passed through her house, any one of whom could have used her PC. She also ran a wireless network without security – so anyone outside her house could have used her net connection.

Observers in homes without cheerleader traffic were fascinated by the wireless defence. "I’m going to open my network to the neighbourhood,” was a typical comment. "Screw the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America]!” But think this through: suppose someone outside your house uses your connection to download child porn to a laptop, hack into a bank or launch a denial of service attack. Unless you change your router’s default settings, you’ll never know. But the police might. So they’ll impound your computer and, if they find no incriminating files, they might give it back; or suspect that you knew how to cover your tracks. It's your word against theirs. So keep your home network secure. For criminals, accessing an insecure network is as easy as putting on a balaclava.

Your office wireless network is more likely to have good security – but perhaps you should check. A quarter of business networks are unsecured, according to a recent wireless survey by RSA Security. Its tests in London this year found that 22% of access points still had default settings that put networks at risk. RSA points out that these offices are at risk of data theft and virus infection. It follows that they could also face difficult questions from police tracing terrible crimes. They might not prove anything against your company; but nor is it an investigation your business wants.

We don’t hear of such investigations today, but that could change. While the percentage of vulnerable networks is falling, it is falling slowly – and the total number of networks is rising fast. RSA reports a 73 per ecnt year-on-year rise in the number of wireless hotspots in London.

The police don’t like anonymity breaking evidential chains. Will they push for new laws that make unsecured networks illegal, or grounds for a claim that the operator is aiding and abetting the commission of a crime? After all, our Data Protection Act already has certain expectations of office networks that hold personal data. While the police don’t care about extending these expectations to protect movies and music, they do care about hacking and child porn; and right now they probably care even more about terrorist communications. At a time when air travellers can’t carry toothpaste, it doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched to foresee the banning of safe havens for criminal communications.

That may or may not happen. But for now, if nothing else, fix your wireless security. Otherwise you could find yourself reported in the press as helping the police with their enquiries in connection with a terrible crime. Nobody wants that.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

This article was orginally published in Issue 15 of OUT-LAW magazine. Register with OUT-LAW to get a free subscription.

A new approach to endpoint data protection

More from The Register

next story
Amazon says Hachette should lower ebook prices, pay authors more
Oh yeah ... and a 30% cut for Amazon to seal the deal
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
Nintend-OH NO! Sorry, Mario – your profits are in another castle
Red-hatted mascot, red-colored logo, red-stained finance books
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
Feel free to BONK on the TUBE, says Transport for London
Plus: Almost NOBODY uses pay-by-bonk on buses - Visa
Twitch rich as Google flicks $1bn hitch switch, claims snitch
Gameplay streaming biz and search king refuse to deny fresh gobble rumors
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?