solar powered wi fi community node

It is a well known open secret among geeks that WiFi communications is unsecure. Although people may wish to think that surfing the net web is a private affair, all users should be made aware that unencrypted data passing over public access WiFi hot spots can be intercepted by any unscrupulous individual or organization. If WiFi data can be gathered the inevitable question becomes what harm can someone do with the information they sniff? For ordinary browsing there is not much of a problem, but if your eMail or passwords get intercepted or your computer gets hacked by nefarious individuals that might be a real big problem.

On the network sign on page there is a list of URLs, but this is just a fraction of the information disclosed by all hotspot users. The warning for the logon page was inspired by Metaspy.COM which shows current MetaCrawler searches.

etherpeg sreenshot 10/22/04

Unencrypted data passing over public access WiFi hot spots can be intercepted, here is a screen shot from etherpeg a Macintosh utility that sniffs for .jpg and .gif files.

By showing an example of the data being broadcast on the sign on page, users hopefully should be aware that some not so well meaning individuals or groups could be sniffing the airwaves looking at your eMail for the purposes of ID theft (AKA phishing, which cost U.S. banks and credit card companies $1.2 billion in 2003), or looking at ways to exploit spyware, etc.

The WARNING on the signon page is not intended to be a salacious act, but rather a sort of neighbor net watch reality check as to the double edge nature of the web. On one hand the web can be used to communicate with friends and family via eMail and instant messanging, do research and shop in the comfort of your home. On the other hand porn and gambling are just some of the potential addictions to be found on the web, which not surprisingly is a concern by many employers because of lost productivity in the work place.

FYI this hot spot is a community service built by geek volunteers who are interested in learning about WiFi technology using open source software, and powered by solar in an effort to promote environmentally sustainable community development. Because the public can use this service we feel obligated to educate the public as to the double edge nature of the web and WiFi in particular.

In addition to educating users about computer security issues, we would like to remind users to think about the larger picture, one aspect being when there is high demand of limited resources we should lower our expectations, be patient and find out if our actions are part of the problem. For example if a few users download large files of information (i.e. windows updates, or downloading "legal" music files), then the network will slow to a crawl because demand will have exceeded capacity. The same idea of finite bandwidth can be applied to LA rush hour traffic which slows to a crawl because there are more drivers than there is road capacity. Slow rush hour traffic or slow connection speeds may cause some people to become upset, but when ya look at the bigger picture these inconveniences are trivial compared to often ignored issues of high demand for oil which is a non renewable resource or the problem of the digital divide (which is kind of a measure of cumulative advantage or disadvantage).

Operating a community based communications network designed and manned by volunteers is a study of contrasts, on one hand it is possible to build a network where a user can have a very high degree of privacy but the trade-off would be that it would not be open or easy to use. Basically we encourage people (especially novice users) to use but not abuse this public network. However if you feel the need to have guaranteed service and are concerned about PRIVACY ISSUES with WiFi then we suggest you subscribe to a for profit ISP like SBC, COX or SPEAKEASY that will directly connect your computer to the web thru a wired connection.


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