The Electronic Frontier Foundation is stepping up its open wireless campaign, which encourages people and businesses to leave their Internet connections open to the public, and offers advice on doing this safely and sustainably. As EFF points out, most WiFi networks are latent for most of the time, and there are a million ways that leaving your network accessible to passersby or neighbors can really help out, from emergency access during disasters to the urgent need to send an email, look up a phone number, or check directions. EFF's Adi Kamdar writes,
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We believe there are many benefits to having a world of open wireless. Two of the big ones for us have to do with privacy and innovation.
Open wireless protects privacy. By using multiple IP addresses as one shifts from wireless network to wireless network, you can make it more difficult for advertisers and marketing companies to track you without cookies. Activists can better protect their anonymous communication by using open wireless (though Tor is still recommended).
Innovations would also thrive: Smarter tablets, watches, clothing, cars—the possibilities are endless. In a future with ubiquitous open Internet, smartphones can take advantage of persistent, higher quality connections to run apps more efficiently without reporting your whereabouts or communications. Inventors and creators would not have to ask permission of cell phone companies to utilize their networks, both freeing up radio spectrum and reducing unnecessary barriers to entry.
This movement is just beginning, but in a sense it has always been around.
The Verge reports
that US-based airline JetBlue will "roll out high-speed wireless networking in the first quarter of 2013," and that the service will be free for passengers. Instead of GoGo
, "which Jetblue derides as slow and unsatisfactory," the airline will use supplier ViaSat
. Read the rest
A Finnish court has ruled that merely operating an open WiFi access point does not make you liable for copyright infringements committed on your network. From the defense attorney's press release:
This alleged copyright infringement had taken place in a specific 12-minute
period in July 14 2010, a date when a summer theater play with an audience
of around hundred people was held at the premises of the former school
owned and resided by the lady.
The applicants were unable to provide any evidence that the
connection-owner herself had been involved in the file-sharing. The court
thus examined whether the mere act of providing a WiFi connection not
protected with a password can be deemed to constitute a
Crucially, the applicants also sought an injunction to prevent the
defendant for committing any similar acts in the future. Had the injunction
been granted, the legal status of various open WiFi providers would have
turned out extremely difficult, as rights-owners would have been provided
with a powerful legal weapon to shut them down in cases of similar,
arguably insignificant infringements by incidental visitors and customers...
Finally, the court concluded that the WiFi owner cannot be deemed liable
for the infringements actually committed by third parties.
Finnish court rules open WiFi network owner not liable for infringement
(Image: Warchalking, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from isaacmao's photostream)
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Christopher sez, "We just released a 90 second animated video that explains why communities build their own broadband networks, often in competition with big cable. For those who want all the details, we just released a massive 75 page white paper examining 3 community fiber networks in depth - Chattanooga, Tennessee; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Bristol, Virginia that is available here."
Community Broadband Networks
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Mathias Nitzsche had a nifty idea: using Wi-Fi network names to create a connection between the network's owner and those who spot it in their wireless networks list. His aptly named wifis.org site lets you pick a handle and advertise it through your network name, as in wifis.org/glennocschmidt. This creates an account for you on the site, and makes a Web form available at that address that sends email to your Google or Facebook email, whichever you used to create the registration. The visitor never sees your email address. (Nitzsche avoids having his own registration database, which removes some overhead and security risk associated with retaining passwords.)
I contacted Mathias to ask about privacy and security issues, as one might be concerned about email addresses being stored and the association of a Wi-Fi network name with such. He said (and his FAQ notes) that he doesn't reveal information to third parties. While he's based in Germany, his data and application is hosted in the Google App Engine in the United States.
I'd love to see a variant on this idea, in which an existing network name could be paired with a unique few letter long code that someone would then append to their network. Look up the code, and you'd get the same result. I admit Nitzsche's idea is neater, encoding the URL and the identifier all at once.
This is probably a good time to also mention WTFWiFi.com, the site that is to network names what Damn You, Auto Correct! Read the rest
The New America Foundation's Open Network Technology Initiative, a US State Department-funded project to build an "Internet in a suitcase" that can be dropped into repressive zones where protesters need network access and the state is trying to take it away. The project -- a very complex piece of technology -- has gotten to the point where it needs a live test, and lucky for the Open Technology engineers, Occupy DC is just down the street, and that's a great testbed.
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The idea is that the system will automatically set itself up. Drop a unit near another unit and they’ll start talking to one another and trading data. Add another and all three will talk to one another. Add a thousand and you can cover a whole city. Then if one of those routers is hooked up to an internet connection, everyone on the network can connect. If that connection disappears, users can still try to update an application like Twitter or send e-mail to the larger internet and the outgoing notes will go into a holding pattern until the mesh network finds another connection to the greater net.
That’s harder to pull off in practice, even under ideal conditions — as anyone who’s tried to link even two Wi-Fi access points in their own home could attest. Now throw in the variables that the access points should work in urban and exposed environments, as well as protest zones like Tahir Square. You’ll want to protect dissidents with encryption and deniability.
In Airshark: Detecting Non-WiFi RF Devices using Commodity WiFi Hardware (PDF), researchers from U Wisconsin (Madison) document a firmware for WiFi access points that can detect and dynamically adjust to interference from vacuum cleaners, baby monitors, and other non-WiFi devices that operate in WiFi's radio spectrum. This kind of thing is the backbone of the theory of cognitive radio: devices that can use software defined radio, phased-array antennas, and cleverness to route around other devices in the band, which may, eventually, enable the a lot more data to occupy the radio spectrum. In Airshark's case, the cleverness is in using the wireless cards on the computers and other devices as a sensing array to triangulate on interference.
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Airshark taps into the application programming interface of wireless cards used on access points to gather data about radio frequencies in the surrounding environment. The software has been trained to recognize signatures of various devices, and can pick them out from the ambient radio noise with more than 90% accuracy even if signals from multiple such devices are present.
False positives were .39% for environments with four or more interfering devices and using various signal strengths. The researchers found the rate was .068% for signals stronger than -80dBm. "We also found its performance to be comparable to a commercial signal analyzer," according to their research paper "Airshark: Detecting Non-WiFi RF Devices using Commodity WiFi Hardware."
Are you a busy professional attending an event at the Toronto International Centre? Be prepared to travel in time to an idyllic era when physically leaving the office made you unreachable by your colleagues and peers. Or, if you want to live in the modern era, be prepared to pay the whopping $99/day
for "ultra-lite wireless" service at the TIC (if you want to actually use the network in any meaningful way, you'll have to sign up for "extreme wireless" at $150/day).
Event-planners, beware -- your attendees will get gouged, reamed, and screwed if you come to TIC.
Most Expensive Wi-Fi Ever?
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You may not realize it, but these are the waning hours of WiFi Day -- 8.02.11 Read the rest
Harold Feld from Public Knowledge sez, "Republicans have proposed forbidding the FCC from allocating any more 'unlicensed' spectrum for WiFi and other uses unless they give wireless companies the opportunity to buy exclusive licenses first. This would effectively mean the end of open spectrum, cutting off investment in the TV white spaces/'Super WiFi.' Public Knowledge has issued an Action Alert, asking those who care about the future of open spectrum and wireless competition to sign up to call their member of Congress on Friday, July 22 and tell them that America needs more unlicensed spectrum that everyone can use -- not just the big wireless companies that can spend billions on licensed spectrum."
Don't think it's worth the trade-off (less unlicensed spectrum and less wireless innovation for very little benefit to either the public or the government's bottom line)? Call your Member of Congress!
Don't Let Fox, AT&T and Verizon Buy Their Way Out of Regulation
We're making this as easy as possible by setting up a day of action this Friday, July 22. To participate, all you need is a mobile phone with the ability to send and receive SMS messages.* If you haven't already signed up for PK Mobile Action Alerts, take a moment to do so now. We'll contact you on Friday with instructions on how to take action.
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This picture frame, made from an ancient Pentium II laptop, displayes images sniffed out of public WiFi connections: "Many coffee shops in Vancouver feature both local art and wi-fi, so why not combine the two?"
Wiretap picture frame
[Free Geek Vancouver via JWZ
] Read the rest
Caroline Spelman. PHOTO: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino
One would think from reports today that the UK's secretary of state for the environment and rural affairs, MP Caroline Spelman, had lost her bleeding mind. Spelman has been widely quoted about a new report from her agency, Defra, about the threat to infrastructure from global climate change. It covers the extremes of temperature and the routine occurrence of heat above a normal range for the UK, and more storms and severe weather that could ravage Great Britain.
The report is an analysis on what changes need be made to keep bridges from buckling in heat or cracking in cold, and nuclear and fossil-fuel plants from suffering damage from previously unthinkable conditions, as well as quotidian issues like floods polluting water supplies and spreading sewage. It's a ripping read, and, please recall, originates from the Tories, the majority conservative part of a coalition government that completely acknowledges the reality of a range of risk potential from climate change. The Conservatives are no Republicans, no matter what else you may say about them.
Nonetheless the report's broader issues were overlooked because of a focus on an exceedingly tiny statement buried in it that Spelman highlighted in a speech unveiling the work. Her prepared remarks have her saying:
Our economy is built on effective transport and communications networks and reliable energy and water supplies. But the economy cannot grow if there are repeated power failures, or goods cannot be transported because roads are flooded and railways have buckled, or if intense rainfall or high temperatures disrupt Wi-Fi signals. Read the rest
A Federal judge in Illinois has once again rebuffed a copyright troll's request for easy court orders to allow him to connect IP addresses with people. The judge said that open wireless networks and other factors make the connection between IP addresses and defendants difficult, and that making it easy to connect people and IPs would invite extortionate legal claims.
After the recent raids against people whose open wireless networks had been used by their neighbors to download child pornography, many people advised that this was evidence that leaving your wireless network open would make you potentially liable for the misdeeds of people who happened to use it.
But as this case shows, judges can be savvier than that (and they should be, too). Good law shouldn't punish people for being neighborly.
Baker then went on to cite a recent mistaken child porn raid, where an IP address was turned into a name--but the named person hadn't committed the crime. "The list of IP addresses attached to VPR's complaint suggests, in at least some instances, a similar disconnect between IP subscriber and copyright infringer... The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber's household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment."
After botched child porn raid, judge sees the light on IP addresses
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The Electronic Frontier Foundation's staff technologist Peter Eckersley writes in "Why We Need An Open Wireless Movement" about the positive aspects of sharing your WiFi with your neighbors and passers-by and about the tragedy of the commons that is puts those of us who generously share our networks with the world at risk. He proposes future direction for protocol and hardware design that allow us to share while keeping our traffic private and while maintaining a minimum amount of bandwidth for our own use.
The problem that's really killing open WiFi is the idea that an unlocked network is a security and privacy risk.
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This idea is only partially true. Computer security experts will argue at great length about whether WEP, WPA and WPA2 actually provide security, or just a false sense of security. Both sides are partially correct: none of these protocols will make anyone safe from hacking or malware (WEP is of course trivial to break, and WPA2 is often easy to break in practice), but it's also true that even a broken cryptosystem increases the effort that someone nearby has to go to in order to eavesdrop, and may therefore sometimes prevent eavesdropping.
It doesn't really matter that WiFi encryption is a poor defense against eavesdropping: most computer users only understand the simple message that having encryption is good, so they encrypt their network. The real problem isn't that people are encrypting their WiFi: it's that the encryption prevents them from sharing their WiFi with their friends, neighbours, and strangers wandering past their houses who happen to be lost and in need of a digital map.
The latest in a series of reversals from Brazil's new government is an attack on open WiFi. The Brazilian telcoms regulator claims that it is empowered to raid the homes of people with open WiFi networks and seize their routers and then issue hefty fines. This is part of a general series of attacks on sharing and openness in Brazil, including attacks on free content and open culture -- a heartbreaking turn from a nation that has led the world in respect for the open Internet, shared culture, and freedom for most of the century.
On January 27 , Anatel (Brazil's National Telecommunications Agency), the regulatory agency responsible for regulating, executing and supervising the telecommunications sector, seized equipment and fined an internet user R$ 3,000 (approximately $ 1,810 USD) for sharing his wifi connection with neighbors in the city of Teresina, Piauí state (Northeast of Brazil). [GV note: one of the poorest states in Brazil.]
Brazil: Criminalization of Sharing Internet via Wifi
(Thanks, Gmoke, via Submitterator!
(Image: Anatel, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from hapoptosis's photostream)
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Firesheep sniffs unsecured connections with major Web sites over local networks and lets a user with the Firefox plug-in installed sidejack those sessions. A trope has spread that the way to solve this problem is to password protect open Wi-Fi networks, such as those run by AT&T at Starbucks and McDonald's. The technical argument is that on a WPA/WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) network in which a common shared password is used, the access point nonetheless generates a unique key for each client when it connects. You can't just know the network password and decode all the traffic, as with the broken WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption that first shipped with 802.11b back in the late 1990s.
Steve Gibson, a veteran computer-security writer and developer, suggested this the moment Firesheep was announced. A blog post at security consultant Sophos makes the same suggestion. But it won't work for long.
Gibson notes the key problem to this approach in the comments to his post: every user with the shared key can sniff the transaction in which another client is assigned its unique key, and duplicate it. Further, if you join a network with many clients already connected, you can use the aircrack-ng suite to force a deauthentication. That doesn't drop a client off the network; rather, it forces its Wi-Fi drivers to perform a new handshake in which all the details are exposed to derive the key.
Thus, you could defeat Firesheep today by assigning a shared key to a Wi-Fi network until the point at which some clever person simply grafts aircrack-ng into Firesheep to create an automated way to deauth clients, snatch their keys, and then perform the normal sheepshearing operations to grab tokens. Read the rest
WPA Cracker is a WiFi security compromiser in the cloud, running on a high-performance cluster. Send them a dump of captured network traffic and $35, and they will try 136 million passwords in 40 minutes, tops (for $17, they'll run the same attack at half speed) -- the same crack would take five days on a "contemporary desktop PC." They also have an extended, 284 million word dictionary that you can run for $55 in 40 minutes. They'll also use the same process to crack the passwords on encrypted ZIP archives.
You're safe if your password isn't in any dictionary, including the special dictionaries used for password cracking (these dictionaries will try random words in combination, as well as common letter-number substitutions such as "1" for "i" and so on). The crack works on WPA and WPA2-locked networks.
Your best bet is a long, random string for a password -- 64 bits of random noise will probably foil something like this for a good time to come. But good luck reading the password aloud to your visiting friend when she needs to get her laptop online.
Questions about WPA Cracker
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