6B - The Michigan Daily - Weekend Magazine - Thursday, November 21, 2002
The attack of the eavesdropping neighbors
The Michigan Daily - Weekend Magazine - Th
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SECRETS OF THE P
For the Daily
Have you ever wanted to rid your
apartment walls of those unsightly
computer wires? If you are living in a
dorm, you are probably getting your
first taste of what it feels like to be
caught in a spider-web built of what
EECS majors like to call Cat5 cable.
The solution to emerge from this tan-
gled mess is a technology that has
exploded into use here and on nearly
every college campus. WLAN, 802.11,
Wi-Fi, are labels synonymous with
what recent Michigan graduate Chad
O'Neil simply called "a wireless wire."
O'Neil, an early adopter, began using
wireless web here on campus in 2000.
"We used it in our old apartment to
share a cable modem between two
rooms ... We couldn't really have done
it without wireless," he said.
The prevalence of wireless is
increasing sharply and demand is driv-
ing costs down. Best Buy sold nearly
all its wireless inventory during
Welcome Week. "We have increased
our selection of wireless products. We
have even added two new product lines
from Belkin and Microsoft since the
back-to-school rush," says Brooke
Reinbold, an LSA senior and a Best
Buy sales representative in Ann Arbor.
"A lot of people don't want to run long
wires, and wireless actually can be
cheaper than buying 100 feet of wire,"
Reinbold claimed. LSA freshman
Catherine Morris said the Telluride
House is getting wireless, courtesy of
her "Crazy Computer Science major"
friend who is providing the labor and
expertise. But she wasn't turned off by
the idea. She admitted, "It's not dorky,
and I think it will become more widely
If this all seems too good to be true,
it just might be. The ease of connecting
to a wireless network may put that net-
work at the mercy of computer hack-
ers. In October, I set out to determine
exactly how and where wireless was
being used on campus. I used a laptop,
GPS and wireless card to map access
points near central and north campus.
Most APs radiate signals approximate-
ly 300 feet in all directions, conve-
niently right through the windshield of
the car used to collect the data shown
on the map above.
This research revealed two signifi-
cant points. First is the incredible
prevalence of access points. Nearly 500
access points were located in the vicin-
ity of campus, and most were student-
operated. This means there is a good
chance your neighbor may be using a
wireless network. The second point is
that at least 77 percent of these net-
works have no security. Consequently,
the neighbor who doesn't have a wire-
less network might be using yours.
LSA Freshman Alexander
Sadovsky, co-founder of airhome.net,
a company that facilitates wireless
installations, said, "I could definitely
get internet access from many APs
around campus. When a Microsoft
representative came to discuss tablet
PCs about a week ago, he reported
that he was ablesto get internet access
in every coffee shop he entered. I am
amazed how many people leave their
computers completely vulnerable to
attack." But his concern may translate
to excitement for others with less
noble intentions (such as that neigh-
bor who is using your wireless).
Despite her attempts at Best Buy to
make sure her customers understand
802.11b Wireless Networks
Near Central Campus
Ali Ramlawi, owner ofJerusalem Gan
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QUESTION OF THE WEEK
"Which relative are you least excited about seeing and why?"
77% Not Protected
With the majority of the campus' wireless networks left unprotected, It is easy for anyone to gain free access to the Inter-
net, provided they have their own wireless card.
the vulnerabilities of wireless,
Reinbold feels, "(Students) are not
really informed what the risks are, and
they won't be likely to secure their net-
works until they are victimized." The
problem is that most security breaches
go unnoticed and may not cause any
Fortunately, it is not difficult to keep
casual hackers out of personal net-
works. Wireless hardware includes a
built-in security measure called Wired
Equivalent Privacy, which scrambles
messages sent through the air, rendering
ineffective a hacking technique called
"sniffing." Instructions for enabling
WEP can be found in the documenta-
tion of all wireless equipment. If not
used, it is very easy to intercept com-
munications between wireless users and
access points. But students aren't taking
the time to enable WEP. Considering
that 77 percent of wireless networks on
campus do not use WEP, Sadovsky says,
"There would be nothing stopping some
kid with a laptop and a perchance for dis-
order to go and wreak havoc on town. I
have heard stories of people stealing
naked pictures of girlfriends, printing out
porn on people's printers and conducting
illegal activities and more from random
access points." But WEP is not perfect
- even the founders of Wi-Fi have com-
mented on its ineffectiveness against
advanced attacks - so it is important to
consider additional security options.
This is not intended to scare students
back to prehistoric technological times
(like say, 1995?). Look again at this pic-
ture. It is arguably a glimpse of some-
thing bigger. In the very near future,
wireless will be available everywhere
on campus. Currently, the University
has wireless in the Union, the Business
School and the Media Union, and plans
exist for expansion elsewhere. Students
with laptops will be able to download
lecture materials while attending lec-
ture, opening up vast new opportunities
for procrastination. There are ideas to
create decentralized wireless networks,
where data could instantly transmit
from one wireless device to another
until it is allowed traverse the internet to
its ultimate destination. There will be
new ways to misuse these new develop-
ments, but security will evolve to try to
keep up with the threats. It is the
responsibility of manufacturers and
retailers to inform consumers of the
options for security, and it is our respon-
sibility to listen.
So skim through the security sec-
tion of that little manual that came
with your fancy new wireless equip-
ment ... before that neighbor turns in
"My cousin Jessica. She's a fresh-
man in college, and she tends to
like to compare everything. She
gets on my nerves."
- Engineering freshman
"My sister. She's a bitch"
- LSA junior Jamie Coleman
"My uncle, because if Ohio State
University wins this weekend, I'll
have to hear all about it."
- LSA sophomore Matt Cassidy
"My grandma, because she can't
hear what I say.
- Engineering sophomore
"I hate all my relatives evenly.
- Rackham student John Ku
"All my little cousins.They're little
- Engineering junior Paul Belden
Compiled by Graham Kelly
From director Todd Haynes
comes a powerful and telling
story of forbidden love.
Starring Julianne Moore.
A look at the
underside of U of M
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