Thursday, October 1, 2009

The dangers of wireless computing for the unsuspecting


By Jessica McCurdy Crooks

It's not exactly news, but there is no doubt that wireless networking is pretty much the de facto way of communicating in today's electronic age. Gone are the days, or almost gone, when everyone connects to the Internet or a network using wires and cables.

With the growth in home-based businesses and telecommuting, the need to access the Internet while on the go has also helped to fuel the growth of wireless computing.

While wireless technology has many benefits there are many dangers as well.

What, really, is wireless computing?

Wireless computing refers to the creation of networks without using network cables. Instead radio frequency signals or other electromagnetic waves are utilized. These waves transmit information between a computer and the Internet.

Since these signals exist all around us, they can be intercepted, changed, and generally mucked with.

The dangers of wireless

One of modern life's great paradoxes is this: tools of technology that help to make life easier often possess inherent dangers as well. This is true of Internet technology and even more so of wireless technology.

Here's one example: less than half of home owners who use wireless technology have any protection in place. Many other users of wireless networks think that there is little harm in someone taking a free ride off of their neighbors' unprotected networks to simply surf the net -- or do other, much nastier things.

When others access your unsecured wireless network, there are many potential risks.

Some of the dangers inherent in using wireless are:

  • Private information can be intercepted in email. This can have numerous repercussions such as identity theft. Way, way not fun.
  • Your passwords and usernames can be captured, which allows intruders access to financial information such as online banking data.
  • Your network and your computer can be the unwitting host of spam email that seems to be sent by you.
  • Your wireless network can be used to mask illegal activities. A good computer hacker can hide behind a wireless user's IP address and send spam or even a DoS (Denial of Service) attack. When this happens it will seem to be coming from the real owner of the network based on the ISP's assignment of an IP address. It is not always easy to prove you're not the guilty party when this happens.
  • Hackers can use your unsecured network to download your files or worse upload files to your computer. Malicious persons could upload files such as pornographic images of children to your machine. Proving the files are not yours would be difficult.
  • Using DNS poisoning an intruder can redirect your DNS server settings to the attacker's own DNS (Domain Name Server). Then, everytime you think you're going to PayPal, eBay, or your bank, for example, you're really entering your private data on into their criminal database.
  • Some hackers who access your network do so just for the purpose of infecting your computer with a virus.