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Sydney newspaper hacks Wi-Fi networks!

A security study, not a scandal

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Here’s a surprise: according to a recent sample of Wi-Fi networks around Sydney, only 2.6 percent were operating without a password.

The Sydney Morning Herald, having seen what happens when unsecured home Wi-Fi networks become vectors for viruses and pornography, decided to test how well householders in its home city secure their Wi-Fi networks.

The methodology the Fairfax newspaper reports is a little vague: it says it tested networks in 20 residential locations (we don’t know whether it meant apartment blocks, streets, suburbs or something else) and found unsecured networks in ten of them.

(To test whether a password was present, wouldn’t the Sydney Morning Herald tester have logged into the networks, without the owners’ permission?)

Out of nearly 400 networks, only ten were operating without a password, which is probably a surprisingly low number. However, Sydney’s million-plus households are probably home to more than 300,000 Wi-Fi access points, so the newspaper estimates that there could be more than 10,000 unsecured networks in the city.

The newspaper doesn’t tell us how many networks were secured with the password “password” or some other common default, but that may have taken white-hat penetration testing just a little too far.

And because we all know that the Internet reverses the onus of proof in criminal cases, the Herald leaves the final legal advice unchallenged. Citing a Queensland University of Technology law lecturer, Nicolas Suzor, the story says “if an unauthorised user illegally downloaded copyright material, it could be traced back to the network owner. ‘It could be quite difficult to prove that it wasn’t in fact you,’ Dr Suzor said.” ®

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