Leeches like me

Super CantennaThe person whose wi-fi signal I used to leech moved out last week. I’m not sure who he was – not even sure that he was a he – but the signal is gone, so it’s time to make other arrangements.

I could pay Charter Cable’s $50 setup fee and then $20/month for internet access, but it rankles to spend money on a service that I’ve been enjoying free-of-charge for almost three years.

A better option for me is the Super Cantenna. At $40 with shipping, it looks like a Pringles can on a tiny tripod. Connect it to a wireless router, flashed and configured in a particular way, and it rebroadcasts signals pulled from a considerable distance … up to a mile, by some estimates. Odds are that a few of the signals it finds will be non-password-protected and those are the ones that I’ll use to get online when my compatible router (okay, another $40) arrives. Such is the plan, anyway.


The safety-net (not)

You might be wondering whether I’m worried about security. Short anwer: no. Long answer: Security is every bit as illusory online as it is in real life. Maybe moreso. And that goes double for privacy. Consider this …

The term for cruising an area in search of wi-fi signal is “wardriving.”

Google “wardriving” and you’ll find plenty of sites openly devoted to the science of breaking and entering password-protected wi-fi networks. Some of them do this in the name of addressing network vulnerability issues, but their how-to videos leave me with little doubt that the sites’ owners are more interested in gaining access than in preventing it. There’s even retail software available – programs like WEPcrack and coWPAtty – designed specifically to crack (I mean … um … verify the strength of) network passwords.

As you might expect, other sites offer tips and tricks for making the leech’s life less care-free, but they don’t inspire much confidence. One such site suggests guarding your home network with an “upside-down-ternet” that’s supposed to confound intruders. I’m not sure how it works, and I won’t condemn it for sounding like a Tupperware party refreshment, but I doubt that it’s as effective as common sense.

If you’re really serious about internet security, keep your virus software up-to-date. Don’t disable your Windows firewall. Restrict your online banking sessions to hard-wired networks, especially if you live in a crowded urban area. And if you use your credit card to make an online purchase inside a coffee house, don’t display the card beside you as you do so.

Don’t be a tard.


Ethics 802.11g

But what, one might ask, are the moral implications of catching and using a thing that’s been tossed at one through the air? Is it stealing? At my level of usage, I think not. If I were choking host networks with video traffic, maybe – maybe – we’d have something to talk about, but I’m not, so we don’t. Besides, anyone who wants to disinvite me from their party needs only lock the door.

I’m a lightly armed pacifist pursuing paths of no resistance, the least of anyone’s worries in an online community that’s crawling with cyber-thugs and hucksters. There are rules, but the rules aren’t enforced. There are roads, but the roads aren’t paved. It isn’t safe to be out after dark.

This is unacceptable.

Individual access fees should be rolled into municipal budgets where they belong. Internet usage is too pervasive, too integral to everyday life to be handled otherwise. Leeches like me should be pointing their Cantennas at public access nodes, not coffee shops, and home network users should be no more interested in my online activities than they are in where and how I drive my car.

Universal healthcare would be nice, too.