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The "War-Driving" Phenomenon

Searching for unsecured wireless LANs has become a popular pastime among hackers and wireless hobbyists. This practice, akin to earlier hackers mass dialing or war dialing random banks of telephone numbers to find active modems, has become known as war driving. Mostly what wireless hackers do is drive around with a wireless card and some software waiting to pick up a signal from a network. The software can log the exact location of the wireless network via GPS, as well as lots of other information such as if it is encrypted or not. If the wireless LAN doesn't have encryption or other protections turned on, war drivers can surf the Internet or explore the local LAN over the wireless link. There is not a high skill level required to do this, so it appeals to all levels of the hacker ranks.

Companies using wireless LANs in dense environments around their offices or near major roads and freeways are at the most risk from this kind of activity. This would include offices in urban environments and downtown areas where there are a lot of high rises. Wireless networks using 802.11b have an effective distance of a couple hundred yards. This can easily bridge the space between two buildings or several floors in a high rise. In a crowded downtown area, it is not uncommon to find several unprotected wireless LANs inside a building. From a security standpoint, tall buildings tend to be one of the worst places to run a wireless LAN. The typical glass-windowed building allows the signals from your LAN to travel quite a distance. If other buildings are nearby, it is almost a sure thing that they will be able to pick up some of your signals. Even worse are tall buildings around a residential area. Imagine teenagers and other ne'er-do-wells scanning for available wireless LANs from the comfort of their bedrooms in suburbia.

A recent study found that over 60% of wireless LANs are completely unsecured. War drivers have even taken to posting the wireless access points they find to online databases with maps so anyone can find open wireless LANs just about anywhere in the country. They categorize them by equipment type, encrypted or not, and so forth. If you have a wireless LAN in a major metropolitan area, its a good chance that it is cataloged in a system like this, just waiting for an opportunistic hacker in your area with some time on his hands. The following are some of the online databases you can check to see if your company's wireless LANs are already cataloged.

Note that most sites will remove your company's name from the listing if you request it.

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