Local Politicians Say Open WiFi Should Be Illegal

from the seems-a-bit-extreme dept

It's quite well known that there are security issues with WiFi networks, but there are ways to take precautions and make yourself pretty safe. As education gets better, it the security risks shouldn't be as big a deal. However, some local politicians in Westchester County, NY have decided to go a step further. According to Guy Kewney, Westchester's County Executive is proposing a law that would basically outlaw open WiFi from any commercial business. As Kewney points out, in the description of the "problem" it appears that the politicians are a bit confused about the actual problem, mixing up a few different issues related to WiFi and security. Obviously, it's a good idea to encourage commercial WiFi providers to make their networks more secure -- but does it really need a law? Update: To clarify, since there's some confusion, by "open WiFi," we mean unsecured WiFi. They're not saying businesses can't offer WiFi, but that it has to include security. But, the examples the politicians give are all just about regular open WiFi access points.

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  1. identicon
    Scott, 4 Nov 2005 @ 2:33pm

    Setting the record straight...

    As a staffer for County Executive Spano, who proposed the law, I just wanted to clarify a few points…
    The law DOES apply to public Wi-Fi hotspots, requiring them to provide a minimum level of security to ensure that confidential customer data is not also accessible via the wireless network that the public can use. It also asks that they post a sign saying they have done so, but reminding users to still exercise discretion. The last point is there to remind users of publicly available shared Wi-Fi connections that they may be sitting in a common open network and could be putting confidential information on their own computers at risk. We hope that these users take at least elementary steps to install some defenses on their computers.
    While it would be nice to assume that business owners know they need to secure their wireless networks, many of them obviously don’t. In our 20-minute drive through downtown, Netstumbler showed that at least half the networks had no obvious security. OK, so some may have another layer of security not immediately visible, but --just standing outdoors on a street -- we were repeatedly able to piggyback on these networks to get to various Internet sites. We weren’t going to break the law and hack into “internal” computers on these networks to prove the point, but a variety of studies by others have shown that about a third of these networks are quite insecure.
    One of the biggest reasons Spano took the legislative route was to raise public awareness – and that campaign is still to come. The risks of Wi-Fi use may be obvious to all of you, but that’s simply not the case for all the novice computer users and small business owners who are going out in droves to buy cheap Wi-Fi equipment and then firing it up without doing even the most basic security configuration. (You’d be surprised at how many these people have even left the SSID at the default name that the device came with.) We are creating a brochure that lists the steps one can take to protect their network and will distribute it through local business groups and at events.
    Our hope is that people won’t look at this as just one more layer of legislation, but rather will see that this is an issue they WANT to comply with given the risks.
    Finally, we too think that Wi-Fi is a great technology. But like everything else with technology, we just want it to be used wisely.

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