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Risk

1/17/2008
07:00 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Don't Do As Bruce Does

I'm talking about encryption and security expert, speaker, book author, and restaurant critic Bruce Schneier. Don't follow his security advice. At least when it comes to securing home wireless networks.

I'm talking about encryption and security expert, speaker, book author, and restaurant critic Bruce Schneier. Don't follow his security advice. At least when it comes to securing home wireless networks.You see, when it comes to his personal wireless network, he doesn't secure it. No encryption. No password. Nothing. Fact is, for a while now, Schneier has been expounding the fact that he runs his personal wireless network sans crypto. Not only can anyone driving by decide to read and capture all of his wireless traffic, they can also use his connection for some free Internet access -- if needed. To Schneier it's a matter of being neighborly:

"To me, it's basic politeness. Providing Internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea. But to some observers, it's both wrong and dangerous," he wrote in his blog.

Put me firmly in camp dangerous, if not camp reckless. I don't think his choice is wrong, at least not in a moral or ethical sense. Actually, if you read Schneier's blog, you'll see that he's well aware of the risks and has dismissed them as minimal. Security is about managing risk to the level you're comfortable. I agree with him on that.

If you live on a mountaintop, and there's no one around, there's no sense in encrypting your traffic from being snooped on by the nest of eagles. Same is true if you live in a congested city and just don't care.

Schneier dismisses the risks of someone hijacking his network to commit crime, and his likelihood of being held culpable, to be minimal. He's also not worried about someone using his connection to download illegal music files.

I think those risks are real enough to defend yourself against. Anyone with middle school networking skills could jump on an unsecured wireless network and capture your passwords, user names, account numbers. They can use your network address as an anonymous (for them) way to commit any crime they wish. When the police are called out, they're going to knock on the door of the ISP account holder. Which, even if innocence can be proved, could prove costly.

And while, just a couple of years ago, WEP was annoying and lacked good security, the same isn't true for WPA. It's a good protocol that offers a high level of security. And while I'm certain it could be broken by a motivated attacker, most criminals would choose to move on when they see the hardened network. And whose network will they choose to infiltrate?

Bruce's. And they'll do so simply because it's not encrypted. Because that network is the path of least resistance.

So, Bruce: Turn on WPA.

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