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
    John Fenderson (profile), 28 Aug 2012 @ 8:53am

    Re: Setting Up

    You can allow them to set your router to assign specific MAC addresses to access your network as they pass by.


    But you'd have to know the MAC addresses they use in advance.

    Personally, I run my wifi open anyway, specifically so that random strangers can use my internet feed, but have a fancy firewall to segregate that traffic out from my personal LAN traffic (and to let me blacklist machines if needed).

    Viruses getting into the network from the people running them.


    If you set this up right (it's not hard), then this can't happen as you won't be sharing traffic between the public and private sides at all.

    The other is people being able to hack police records.


    That's an interesting thought...

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