WATPA: FW: World Tribune - "Urban wireless networking: A parasite's paradise"

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From: Norman J. Jacknis (norm@jacknis.com)
Date: Thu Oct 18 2001 - 23:10:17 EDT

A follow up to one of the items we discussed tonight.



Urban wireless networking: A parasite's paradise

By Scott McCollum
October 2, 2001 See the Scott McCollum Archive

The Internet for me is really helpful. I can send
emails, buy products, research my columns and play
games across vast distances with my cable modem. My
wife and I feel paralyzed at our relatives' homes that
do not have the luxury of high-speed Internet. The 56K
analog modem connection via a copper telephone line
causes both of us to wince upon hearing that
fax-machine handshake tone at sign on. My wife and I
are sort of spoiled by our cable modem and wish that
everyone had high-speed Internet like us. The only
problem we see is that not everyone wants to pay for
the luxury of high-speed Internet connections like we

Leave it to the geniuses in the People's Republic of
San Francisco to come up with a full-blown communist
solution to that problem. In a move that would leave
the most violent anti-capitalist revolutionary in 1959
Cuba aglow with feverish ecstasy, some Bay Area
citizens are constructing "free" wireless networks.
These wireless local area networks (LAN) offer free
Internet access to anybody with a laptop/PC compliant
with the 802.11b wireless networking standard and
within range of the wireless LAN's antenna.

For example, a network engineer living downtown pays
for high-speed Internet through a cable modem or DSL
line. He then buys an 802.11b router for a couple of
hundred bucks, attaches it to his cable modem and
places it next to his window. Linksys, a maker of
networking products, claims that their wireless
802.11b router is capable of a 400+ meter outdoor
operating range. In urban San Francisco where homes
are right on top of each other, 400 meters could cover
a hundred families at a time. Truly, the few who have
can give to the many that have not. Equality and
parity is reached! High-speed wireless Internet access
for the masses! The glory of the workers' utopia is
upon us!

You might have noticed that such a network is not at
all "free" to the network engineer who has to blow at
least $200 on the router and almost half that per
month for the high-speed Internet line. If our
altruistic network engineer decides to share his cable
modem connection, what happens to his connection to
the Internet? Consider the fact that cable modems are
susceptible to bandwidth limitations on multiple
users. If everyone in your neighborhood has a cable
modem and decides to use them at 7 PM every night, the
bandwidth limitations inherent with cable Internet
will drag your (and everyone else's) connection speed
down at 7 PM. With our network engineer's "free"
wireless network operating constantly, his own
Internet browsing experience will suffer along with
those who are using his network. The signal
degradation, slow access times and general
sluggishness of the wireless LAN would undoubtedly
cause many of the human leeches on his "free" network
to do something about it? Like, complain to the
network engineer that the network is too slow.

What? Are you kidding? Why would the leeches pitch in
and buy a faster line to the Internet or upgrade the
network engineer's router? That would cost money and
the whole reason why these parasites are on the "free"
wireless network is because it is FREE.

In all seriousness, one such network engineer in urban
San Francisco has said that he has gotten to know his
neighbors much better now that they are siphoning off
of his high-speed Internet. CNET News quoted one
member of the Bay Area Wireless Users Group as saying
that his neighbors are very happy with using his
Internet access free of charge. "Occasionally, they
bring me pies and things like that." Yeah, I'd have no
problem giving up the occasional pastry to my
next-door neighbor if it meant I could save $50 a
month on my cable modem bill. This is no different
than bringing a cupcake over to your neighbor's house
after you've hooked up your garden hose to his faucet
so you could water your lawn everyday for the past
month. Also, there are probably seventeen other
neighbors and uncounted passers-by that have used this
guy's water for the past month free of charge without
giving him anything.

Many of the leftist geeks running these wireless LANs
in the spirit of "anarchistic cooperation" will
quickly point out that most cable modem/DSL Internet
access is not based on usage the way water/electricity
is. This is true, but I should point out that most
major high-speed Internet companies like Time-Warner
Cable and AT&T Broadband limit their subscribers'
bandwidth usage. AT&T and Time-Warner offer two
different levels of broadband service: consumer and

Consumers get the basic package of email and some
storage space for a web page. Businesses are allowed
to host their corporate web pages on a dedicated
server for a premium price. However, it did not take
long to figure out that companies could buy the
consumer package, attach their own server to the cable
modem and run their own corporate web page for much
less than the cost of the expensive business package.

Abuse of wireless LANs extend beyond the hippie home
user in urban San Fran, too. Many hackers have
exploited businesses with wireless networks by
leeching off of their corporate Internet access. Say
you are a consultant putting together a wireless LAN
for a law office downtown. Each lawyer gets a wireless
network card for his laptop and you connect an 802.11b
wireless router to the company's DSL so that the
lawyers will have Internet access anywhere in the
office. Without properly securing the wireless LAN
router, you have opened up the company network
resources to anyone within range of the wireless
router. Private and confidential information is now
"free" along with high-speed Internet access for
hackers sitting in the coffee shop across the street
with a laptop. This is not a hypothetical, it is real
and it happens in cities like San Francisco, Seattle
and Washington DC where wireless LANs abound.

If you have a high-speed Internet connection and want
to allow possibly hundreds of leeches draining your
bandwidth - fine. It is your money and you should be
able to do whatever you want with it. If you are a
business who either makes money off of subscribers to
your Internet service or a corporation with a wireless
LAN, these are some steps you should take to secure
your interests:

Monitor your bandwidth usage. Whether you are an
Internet Service Provider (ISP) or a company sharing a
high-speed Internet connection via wireless LAN, you
should monitor your network traffic. As an ISP, warn
the single users when they sign up that pushing 20GB a
day on their accounts will have to either pay extra
for their service or be immediately terminated. As a
corporate IT manager, monitor overall Internet usage
to see if there are abnormal spikes in bandwidth after
working hours.

Patch your company's computer operating systems.
This is one of the quickest fixes a company can do,
made easier by the free Windows Update website if you
are running Microsoft Windows 98SE or newer on your
PCs. Many corporations have not upgraded their
operating systems or their computers in years and are
probably due. If you think you have to run Windows 95
clients over a Novell Netware 4.11 server because you
cannot afford to upgrade, I point to the fact that
computers are cheaper than ever. With the proper
planning and support, a migration to newer technology
like Windows 2000 does not have to be as bad as the
generally lazy IT staff members around the world make
it out to be. And if you think that moving from
Windows to Linux is simple and cost-free, I've got
some nearly worthless VA Linux stock to sell you.

Secure your network via routers and firewalls.
Security should be at the top of most organization's
agendas nowadays. Many cyber-security companies use
hackers to test the security of corporate LANs and
will determine if your network can be compromised. I
personally do not like the idea of paying a thief to
inspect my house for security, because I do not trust
thieves. I know there are better security experts
other than the stereotypical man-child hacker with a
ponytail and Limp Bizkit concert T-shirt. If you have
firewall software and hardware routers in place
already, have a qualified security expert take a
second look at them.

Wireless Internet is going to become more popular and
ubiquitous in the near future. I just hope that the
businesses that provide consumers with this service
can scrape off the parasites first.


Sott McCollum is an independent consultant and tech
industry insider living in Austin, Texas. He is a
contributing editor for World Tribune.com and his
column will be featured in WorldTechTribune, a new
publication by WorldTribune.com, which will be coming
soon. His opinions have also been featured at Pure
Politics, the NewsFactor Network and on the
internationally syndicated Cyber-Line radio talk show.

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