[HCI-Sec] [Privacy] NYTimes: Growth of Wireless Internet Opens New Path for Thieves


In 2003, the Secret Service office in Newark began an investigation that infiltrated the Web sites and computer networks of suspected professional data thieves. Since October, more than 30 people around the world have been arrested in connection with the operation and accused of trafficking in hundreds of thousands of stolen credit card numbers online.

Of those suspects, half regularly used the open Wi-Fi connections of unsuspecting neighbors. Four suspects, in Canada, California and Florida, were logged in to neighbors' Wi-Fi networks at the moment law enforcement agents, having tracked them by other means, entered their homes and arrested them, Secret Service agents involved in the case said.

More than 10 million homes in the United States now have a Wi-Fi base station providing a wireless Internet connection, according to ABI, a technology research firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y. There were essentially none as recently as 2000, the firm said.


Sometimes, suspected criminals using Wi-Fi do not get out of their car. At 5 a.m. one day in November 2003, the Toronto police spotted a wrong-way driver "with a laptop on the passenger seat showing a child pornography movie that he had downloaded using the wireless connection in a nearby house," said Detective Sgt. Paul Gillespie, an officer in the police sex crimes unit.


In the end, prevention is largely in the hands of the buyers and sellers of Wi-Fi equipment. Michael Coe, a spokesman for SBC, the nation's No. 1 provider of digital subscriber line connections, said the company had provided about one million Wi-Fi routers to its customers with encryption turned on by default. But experts say most consumers who spend the $60 to $80 for a Wi-Fi router are just happy to make it work at all, and never turn on encryption.


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