Sunday, May 17, 2009

Steal my Info please! Things to think about when using public wifi.

Several years ago I worked for an ISP who wanted to offer wifi as an internet service. The idea was simple enough, fewer wires and it did not require their phone lines to be of a specific quality to get internet service. The downsides:
1. Line of sight, if you couldn't see the Access Point tower you could not get service.
2. Bad weather interfered with it especially heavy rain and snow.
3. Wifi can not go through live trees or metal structures.

Those where the main problems, but other became apparent after some time of running the service. One of the first questions I asked was. "Since it goes through the air via radio signal doesn't that mean anyone can see it?" I was told no by the owner (Who was fired about a year later for some bad decisions) and yes by one of the admins at the time. We soon found out the real answer when customers started calling in saying that other peoples network shares where popping up in their "My network places" section. However this was not due to the wifi signal, but to all the customers being on the same network with no restrictions between them. This problem was fixed very soon but then other problems popped up.

These problems are ones that face any wireless setup.
1. We used mac address authentication to verify customers, this meant we checked for specific numbers that the customers wireless network device had before they could gain access to the internet. This number could be faked, so basically anyone could use the service as long as the original client was not online at the time. This is known as MAC address spoofing.

2. No wep/wpa keys where used. The system was open, so even if you was not a customer you could still watch information pass around just by associating with the AP but not obtaining an ip address.

3. Ligntening loved our nice tall antennas. And man where they expensive to replace.

On a public wifi connection a person can see just about everything you do on the internet. Heres a few.
1. Read your instant messages
2. See your usernames and passwords
3. View what photos your looking at
4. See the websites your going to
5. Redirect you to another site or replace items such as images with their own.
6. Access your file shares and snoop through your files.
7. Take down the entire wireless network making it difficult or impossible for anyone to get online
8. Gain access to the wifi device and modify its settings.
9. Record all the information from the entire network and take it home to look through at their own speed and time.

You'd think these would be reason enough to ban most public wifi "hotspots" but its not. Places like Chicago and New York are flooded with free wifi, even small towns like mine have way more then you'd think. Imagine sitting down at your hotel room to check your bank account, email, or even get tickets to a show only to have your information stolen by someone in a car across the street. And its only going to get worse, as wifi gets stronger and faster new tools will emerge to make the task of stealing information easier.

If anyone is interested in proof and you live in the Quincy, IL area let me know.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DVD or Download?

As technology progresses slowly forward the way we get our entertainment changes. I remember VHS with its big bulky case, and the many times trying to retrieve the mangled mess of ribbon from the jaws of the vcr player. Then the DVD came out with promises of less space consumption, higher quality images and sound, lets not forget the "more durable then VHS tapes" claim that has now led many parents to let their kids use DVDs as a play toy. Only to find out later the disc won't play.

But now with Interactive tv's such as the Apple T.V. and a few others, set-top computers that connect to our Entertainment equipment while connecting us without wires to the World Wide Web. Now every gadget savvy person can sit on their couch and watch just about any movie without having to put in a VHS or DVD. For about $9.00 per month you can watch thousands of Netflix movies, for free you can use websites such as Hulu to watch tv shows and movies.

And at a price cheaper then a pack of smokes or a movie ticket you can download videos to watch anytime you want. Even the gaming market is seeing the trend, watching online videos is available on most popular consoles and rumors are spreading that others will follow.

So whats better? A solid tangible item you can play at anytime as long as your in the same location as it. Or a digital version that can be access from almost anywhere with a decent Internet connection.


Monday, May 11, 2009

University of Missouri Requires Students Buy iphone or ipod.....NOT!!

It seams that the media is having a hay day with this story. University of Missouri has added the Iphone / Ipod Touch as a requirement on its recent student requirement forms. Why? Well officials from U of M have stated very clearly that its mostly a way to get students a little more money. The extra cash can be used to purchase any device or material the students may need, and the "Requirement" will NOT be enforced.

Why the IPOD/Iphone?
My understanding would be something like this.
1. Its a reasonably expensive device, so students have a greater chance at obtaining more extra money then they would if the University "required" say a simple voice recorder.
2. Its multifunctional, which means its easier to justify for educational purposes.
3. Its popular, not many people have to ask "whats an iphone?". But many people would probably ask, "Whats a PIM?"

So out of the hundreds of "news" sites covering this story only a few have actually mentioned the actual facts. This is not a ploy to get Apple more money, nor is it product favoritism. It's a creative way to get students extra money for school, and in a time like we are going through students can use the extra cash.