TECH/SOC: War driving by the Bay

From: Chris Rasch (
Date: Mon Apr 16 2001 - 12:58:36 MDT

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: War driving by the Bay
Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2001 10:49:58 -0400
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <>
To: Digital Bearer Settlement List <>,

War driving by the Bay
By: Kevin Poulsen
Posted: 13/04/2001 at 08:20 GMT

In a parking garage across from Moscone Center, the site of this year's
Conference, Peter Shipley reaches up though the sunroof of his car and
slaps a dorsal-shaped Lucent antenna to the roof-- where it's held firm
a heavy magnet epoxied to the base.

"The important part of getting this to work is having the external
It makes all the difference" says Shipley, snaking a cable into the car
plugging it into the wireless network card slotted into his laptop. The
computer is already connected to a GPS receiver -- with its own
roof antenna -- and the whole apparatus is drawing juice through an
of cigarette-lighter adapters. He starts some custom software on the
laptop, starts the car and rolls out.

Shipley, a computer security researcher and consultant, is demonstrating
what many at the security super-conference are quietly describing as the
next big thing in hacking. It doesn't take long to produce results. The
moment he pulls out of the parking garage, the laptop displays the name
a wireless network operating within one of the anonymous downtown office
buildings: "SOMA AirNet." Shipley's custom software passively logs the
latitude and longitude, the signal strength, the network name and other
vital stats. Seconds later another network appears, then another:
"addwater," "wilson," "tangentfund."

After fifteen minutes, Shipley's black Saturn has crawled through twelve
blocks of rush hour traffic, and his jerry-rigged wireless hacking setup
has discovered seventeen networks beaconing their location to the world.
After an hour, the number is close to eighty.

"These companies probably spend thousands of dollars on firewalls," says
Shipley. "And they're wide open."

"Absolutely Huge"
Dramatic drops in hardware prices over the last year have made it
enormously attractive and convenient for corporations and home user to
wireless, in particular with equipment built on the 802.11 standard -
was popularized with Apple's AirPort, and is now widely used on PCs. But
computer security experts say that in the rush towards liberation from
tethers of computer cable, individuals and companies are opening the
to a whole new type of computer intrusion.

"It's absolutely huge," says Chris Wysopal, also known as ""Weld Pond,"
director of research and development at Boston-based @Stake. The company
added wireless auditing to their consulting menu approximately two
ago, after months of laboratory research convinced them that it was a
problem. "802.11 is inherently less secure than other wireless
Wysopal says, "and the way it's being deployed makes it worse."

The 802.11 cards and access points on the market implement a wireless
encryption standard, called the Wired Equivalent Protocol (WEP), that in
theory makes it difficult to jump onto someone's wireless network
authorization, or to passively eavesdrop on communications. But in
researchers at the University of California at Berkeley published a
revealing a number of severe weaknesses in WEP that allow attackers to
crack the crypto with sophisticated software, and ordinary off-the-shelf

"Hardware to listen to 802.11 transmissions is readily available to
attackers in the form of consumer 802.11 products," reads the paper.
products possess all the necessary monitoring capabilities, and all that
remains for attackers is to convince it to work for them."

But the consensus at the RSA Conference is that attackers hardly need
resort to cryptanalysis. Most networks in the wild aren't using WEP at
or are using it with the encryption key set to one of several well-known
default values.

According to Wysopal, many corporate and home users erroneously believe
that their network name, or 'SSID', serves as a secret password. Other
implementers simply don't consider that their wireless network's
"cloud" extends beyond the walls of the building. If they've set up
wireless access points behind their firewall, they're opening their
internal network to anyone with a laptop. Even if they put their access
points outside a firewall, intruders may be able to use them to get out
the Internet, whether to stage attacks, or just for free bandwidth.

"I think almost every large hi-tech corporation has wireless exposure
says Wysopal. "Sometimes you can just drive into their parking lot...
on your laptop and be on their network. We've seen it in a lot of brand
name companies that you would recognize."

Al Potter, Manager of Network Security Labs at ICSA, has one word for
exposure he's seen: "Terror."

War Driving
Many here believe that hackers are already cruising around metropolitan
areas in cars and on bicycles, with their laptops listening for the
of wireless networks. Using such a network doesn't even require special
software or hardware, an ordinary $150.00 consumer wireless card will
on to the beacons and put you on the net.

Grand computer capers will be pulled off, not from bedrooms and college
dorms, but from windowless vans in company parking lot, and from park
benches and empty stairwells. "It's fun, it's the new thing," says
"It's kind of like war dialing: you never know what you're going to

War dialing is the timeworn technique in which a hacker programs his or
system to call hundreds of phone numbers in search of poorly protected
computer dial-ups. The name comes from the movie WarGames, which
Matthew Broderick performing the technique.

In the late nineties, as a research project, Peter Shipley war dialed
phone number in the San Francisco Bay Area-finding dial-ups leading to
banks, hotels, and scores of unprotected personal computers. The survey
took three years to complete. The goal, Shipley said, was to raise
awareness of the threat posed by unprotected modems, and the project won
attention from the print media and online news.

Now, in the same spirit, and with the help of some hobbyist friends,
Shipley plans to "war drive" the streets of San Francisco, Oakland, and
portions of Silicon Valley to the south. When he's done, he'll have a
database that maps the geographic location of, in all likelihood,
of open 802.11 networks. He doesn't plan on publishing the raw data --
doesn't want to help attackers spot choice targets -- but he says the
numbers will speak for themselves. "I can give you the density of open
networks an area, organized by zip code," says Shipley. "People don't
believe there's a security problem if you don't prove it to them."

Shipley says he doesn't plan on actually using anyone's network. But to
make the experiment real, and, perhaps, to avoid unwanted attention,
already plotting ways to hide the hacked antenna magnetically held to
roof of his car. "I'm thinking of putting a pizza sign on it."

2001, all rights reserved.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto:>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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