Paper Suggests Letting The Government Use Your Router In An Emergency

from the not-as-crazy-as-it-sounds dept

Jon Brodkin, over at Ars Technica, has an interesting discussion about a paper from some researchers suggesting that we could augment first responder communications efforts by letting them make use of the public's WiFi routers. Basically, if I understand the proposal correctly, if turned on, it would make use of your router to try to form an ad hoc mesh network with other, similar routers in the area that, in theory would only be used by those public safety first responders. It's no secret that there are efforts underway to make sure that emergency personnel have better access to communications spectrum, and this is, at the very least, a creative way of attacking the problem.

The theory is that this doesn't impinge on anyone's security, because it would effectively carve out a separate service on the router, not unlike home WiFi routers that offer up different logins for residents and "guests." Of course, theory and reality aren't always one and the same, and Brodkin reached out to Bruce Schneier who raised his concerns:
“The problems are the same,” Schneier told Ars. “Once you build such a system, you have to build the security to ensure that only the good guys use it. And that's not an easy task. It is far more secure not to have the capabilities in the first place.”
That said, if such a system were purely voluntary, and individuals were able to offer up such connectivity for first responders (or even for anyone else), would that necessarily be so bad? I've been skeptical in the past of attempts to create truly comprehensive mesh networks building on people's home WiFi routers, and there hasn't been much success there. But, perhaps there's something interesting in special use cases, such as one involving first responders. I agree with Schneier that there could be some risks, but I'm not sure how they would be much different than running a basic guest access WiFi network that doesn't involve a password. As long as you're not using that network for sensitive and unencrypted info, it seems like a similar level of risk.

Filed Under: first responders, government, mesh networks, privacy, routers, security, sharing

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  1. icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 28 Aug 2012 @ 6:45am

    Re: I don't see the point

    I could understand no wanting to necessitate the manufacture and distribution of devices, they're probably banking on leveraging existing property to cut costs.

    But the part I like best about your proposal is that participation is optional. I would also gladly opt to enable a feature like this on my router, provided I could weigh the pros and cons of doing so. But to have a back-door forced on me by the government seems unacceptable.

    I may not like it, but my car may be commandeered in an emergency. That is different than preparing in advance for the action by distributing copies of my key to all emergency personnel. The latter effects my security, the operation of my property, and exposes me to more potential abuse of power.

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