Drive By Hackers

Jan. 2 - "There are millions of hackers who can break into a wireless computer, or even a palm pilot or Blackberry, by picking up its broadcasts from some distance away. They like to get in their cars and go 'war-driving', as they call it .. Most don't misuse the data they find. But there are plenty of hackers out there who could do incredible harm."

"I'm gonna start scanning here as we're driving down the road, and it's gonna start naming off the ap's as we pick them up .."

"Found open network, ssid ..3, 314. Found closed network .."

After 15 minutes of 'war-driving' past shopping centers apartment complexes and suburban neighborhoods computer security consultant George Spillman logs 'hits' on hundreds of access points, ap's, for wireless networks.

"Linksys, no encryption. Linksys, no encryption."

All too many are open doors for signal-stealing hackers who can learn your passwords, read your e-mail, use your credit card numbers and turn your system into a weapon.

"They could be loading spam. They could be loading viruses on the internet."

"You could have child pornographers using your system. You could have terrorists driving by your house. Using your system to send a message. And the only traceable route back to it is you. It stops at your house."

And they can do it all from their laptop with a consumer wireless card: "We took this one apart and soldered in an external connection so we can use it with a secondary antenna .."

Serious hackers use equipment to enhance the signals: all these gadgets and gizmos .. Right off the shelf at your local mall or supermarket. "One of the things the packets help with .."

As the 'wheel-man' on this war drive, I've hooked up with a high-tech hackers' society devoted to keeping the web a friendly environment. They meet monthly to share pizza and in the computer arts and science.

"But here's the liability question, okay?"

"We're looking for the vulnerabilities. We're trying to catch them before the bad guys catch them."

In this neighborhood, George hones in on a wireless network named 'Guitar' which he could pinpoint with a GPS receiver . But some old-fashioned legwork is all it takes.

"They can watch you on line. They can use your computers"

He tells Martha, the lady of the house what a hacker with bad intentions could do with her wireless system.

"Does this alarm you?"

"Yes. It's quite alarming. And I did not know it was so bad. That there's so much vulnerability."

"How often do you leave it on?"

"All the time."

But  not anymore. We meet with Martha's husband Terry, a corporate IT manager to show him how readily their wireless setup could be cracked. It even features signal boosters.

"Y'know, can you monitor the traffic I've been generating?"

"Well, one thing I can do on my wireless connection is .."

Long-story-short, hackers could pretty much have their way with 'Guitar'.

Here's its namesake to jeopardize the family.

"George comes in and within ten second's he's cracked all and the encryption algorithms that the vendor guarantees is secure."

"And it's really a surprise that it was this easy."

Ffor every security measure, hackers set about finding countermeasures. But experts say you can make it harder for them by taking basic precautions with your wireless network. Encrypt. Change passwords. Change SSID numbers. When you're gone or asleep, shut everything down.