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CNET News Video: 'Warbiking' shows the need for better wireless security
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CNET News Video: 'Warbiking' shows the need for better wireless security

6:55 /

We take a high-tech bike ride with James Lyne from Sophos to see how Sydney compares when it comes to taking wireless security seriously.

[MUSIC] First and foremost, tell us what war biking actually is. So, it's sounds very dramatic. Warbiking is essentially the evolution of war driving, which comes from war dialing. And it's basically cycling around a city picking up all the mobile devices, all the wireless access points, and building a map that shows the various levels of security of all those different devices. Now, talk us through the kit you use when you're riding around. So it's a fairly Heath Robinson setup, I've got to admit. Which I enjoyed thoroughly. I've got a Raspberry Pie at the core of everything. Wonderful little you know $50 computer designed for children to learn how to program. And that's connected up to a series of wireless scanners for different types of wireless. We then connect it up to a GPS so that we can identify, you know, where that particular network was located. And some custom software that exports all of that into a wonderful hi-tech rotating Google Maps image that makes security actually visual, which is hard to do. And when you're out there, what's the data you're collecting? So, at a high level, we're collecting the beacons and probes. That, that's basically your phone's way of saying, have you seen this network that I've connected to previously? And your device, typically, will send out 10 to 15 of the networks that you've previously seen. Those in themselves can be fascinating as it may give away where you work, a hotel you stayed at recently, in some cases some embarrassing information, and, and maybe personally identifiable. We then have, of course, the networks beacons as well. So, any of the coffee shops in the area will be broadcasting out a network name and the security level, as well. And that's what we're collecting. Now, you've been, we've been out this morning having a bit of a ride around. You've warbiked around cities all over the world. How does Sydney compare? So, Sydney's actually one of the better cities. Or as I prefer to put it, one of the least terrible. they, I mean a, a couple of statistics for you. So about 4% of the networks in Sydney were using WEP. WEP is a security protocol that has been known, just horribly, horribly broken for about more than ten years actually. So it really shouldn't be in widespread use. We still have thousands of networks here in in, in Sydney with that problem. But compare that to London, a little over 6%. San Francisco, the hot spot of America, awful pun, at about 9.5%. So, so actually, you know, Sydney's doing quite well, but still really need to make some changes. So when people are using this sort of, like, poor security or non-secured, not only just businesses but in their home, what are they actually risking? What can happen to people if other people can connect to the, the wireless internet? The, I mean, there's a whole myriad of, of different attacks that can occur. Let's take the most common scenario. You go to a coffee shop, you connect to the open network, or maybe get the shared password that everyone's using. You go through the little captive portal and register, and thereafter you're on the internet. Of course, most people assume the coffee shop is securing their traffic, but all of that information is being shouted out for anyone with a $40 transmitter to pick up several hundred meters away, with readily available software. That means they can see where you're browsing. They can see maybe what you're shopping for. They can see user names and passwords, potentially. Of, the services you log on to like social media or your email. In extreme cases, it could even be used to distribute malicious code that could go further to do things like, turning on the web cam on your mobile device or PC. We're talking serious invasion of privacy in the digital and the physical world. So should people not be using public Wi-Fi? Well, I'm a big user of public Wi-Fi. I travel a lot. And it's, it's pretty important. It's a good convenience. The best thing to do is really to assume that someone is watching. So what I like to do is set up my devices with a VPN, virtual private network. I use an online account for my personal device. And as a business, we have a corporate VPN. So it's something that both consumers and small businesses can do. And that encrypts all of my information end to end, kind of wrapping it in a tunnel. So that even if someone is sitting there listening to that open network, all my information is protected in a bubble and they can't get access to it or tamper with anything I do. So, preparation really is the best strategy. Now, you've done kind of the reverse, as well. You've ridden out with publicly available hotspots to see who'd connect. [LAUGH] What data can you get from that the other way around? Yeah, this is actually I think one of the most terrifying parts of the study, because it reveals human behaviors. So this hot spot that we set up had three names- Free Public WiFi, Free Internet, and Do Not Connect. Wonderful name. Now we did see in, in Sydney, just under a thousand people connecting to those, those hotspots that we created where we then provide a connection to the internet with a small warning. We didn't, with our hotspot do anything nasty. We didn't insert any malware, we didn't hijack any pages, but with the tools we were using it would have been trivial to do so. So when someone asks for, you know, Internet Bank X or XYZ webmail provider, we redirect them to a fake page where we can collect their username and password. Easy to do. In our case, we just collected high-level information about the sites that people were using. What was most common? And the security mistakes that were being made. And I can tell you it's a fairly depressing picture. What sort of stuff? So I think for me the, the most damning statistic was the fact that only 1.2% of users were using a VPN. So the majority of users were just connecting to WiFi in a very trustworthy fashion and going about browsing, very unimportant websites like, internet banking for example. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? As a security curmudgeon and general cynic, there was one small beacon of hope. In a little over 60%, of the websites that people are visiting, were using HTTPS or encrypted HTTP which is actually a, a big step forward over years previous. So not completely horrifying. But again, we really need to think about how we behave on these public hotspots when we connect with our mobile devices. [MUSIC}

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