Wi-Fi Networks On The Rise -- So Are Security Concerns, According to UC Prof

One Internet connection, one household, many users: many homeowners (and businesses) are turning to wireless networks (Wi-Fi) to link computers for sharing files, printers and Internet connections. You may be sharing more than that, however. Tony Grubesic, assistant professor of geography at the University of Cincinnati, cautions Wi-Fi users to implement security into their systems as described in his article, “‘Where’ Matters: Location and Wi-Fi Access,” published in this month’s Journal of Urban Technology.
In many cases, people have left their systems vulnerable. “Anyone driving by with the right equipment can launch a virus or denial of service attack,” says Grubesic. Using an omnidirectional antenna, his laptop, a GPS receiver and a wireless card, Grubesic was able to pick up who was using a wireless network — and more — because users have not followed proper wireless encryption protocols.

“Wireless networking is a hot topic in Cincinnati, partly because of Councilman David Pepper’s efforts,” says Grubesic. In fact, Piatt Park, located in downtown Cincinnati, is now participating in a one-year pilot project, making it a wireless hot spot.

Grubesic’s report also details the uneven roll-out of wireless services in the Cincinnati area with results suggesting that a new, wireless “digital divide” may be emerging.

“Providers tend to ‘cherry pick’ an area,” says Grubesic. Wireless providers often cater to more affluent areas first. What results is an interesting comparison of who — and who doesn’t — have Internet access. In Grubesic’s research, conducted in January 2002, he found relatively high rates of Wi-Fi use and provision in Hyde Park and relatively low Wi-Fi use and provision in the West End.

Other comparisons might be drawn with Grubesic’s continuing research, such as looking at where wireless networks are presently available and comparing present access statistics to the areas catalogued in 2002. The legwork is painstaking, however. “I drove every street,” admits Grubesic, smiling.

In many cases, securing wireless access points is as simple as flipping a switch.  Users need to be aware that basic signal encryption, such as wired equivalent privacy (WEP) is available and a good first step in securing one’s network. 

“Security concerns are paramount,” says Grubesic. “People need to be aware of these security concerns and take steps to encrypt their signals.”

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