Monday, August 13, 2001

Wireless Internet is ripe for hacking

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — Business travelers eager to plug their laptop computers into wireless Internet networks at hotels, airports and coffee shops need to be on guard: their e-mail and Web browsing can be easily intercepted, security experts warn.

        The problem, they say, is that these new networks, which charge an hourly fee for wireless access to the Internet, aren't pro tected by encryption and are vulnerable to hackers.

        “When you sit in an airport and use your laptop you might as well be broadcasting to anyone within listening distance,” said Jason Sewell, a digital forensics specialist at security firm Predictive Systems.

        Wireless networks — known sometimes as Wi-Fi — are taking off. Some entire airports are rigged for wireless connections. The networks are also popping up in hotels, and the Starbucks chain is introducing them.

        Market-leader MobileStar, based in Richardson, Texas, provides about 650 wireless network areas for American Airlines, Starbucks and several hotel chains. Their networks have no encryption at all, so almost everything sent from a customer's laptop can be picked up by a nearby hacker.

        Internet Security Systems co- founder Chris Klaus said it takes no special software to intercept data off a Wi-Fi network, and is easy to do.

        MobileStar chief technology officer Ali Tabassi said users should install personal firewall programs and use Virtual Private Networking software offered by employers. A VPN creates a secure pipeline between a remote user and the employer's network. But many companies don't offer them.


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