Security Experts:

Australian Police Go Wardriving

In Australia, the local police will be informing businesses and residents that their wireless signal is unprotected and therefore open for criminal activity.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, police in Queensland will be the first to provide the new service. It is hoped that securing wireless in the area will help cut down on the number of cases of fraud, however, this is still just an informational campaign with no fines for non-compliance.

Open Wi-Fi NetworksThe idea started in 2009, but The State Crime Operations Command's Fraud and Corporate Crime Group only officially launched the program at the end of March 2012. Police will first map the residential and business areas of town. For locations where the Wi-Fi signal is not adequately protected, the police will follow up with a letter describing what they found and how the owner can best remedy the situation.

“Officers from the Hi Tech Crime Investigation Unit will patrol the Brisbane area (residential and commercial), but we are encouraging the public to not sit back and wait for this contact. Check your connection tonight and make sure it is protected,” Detective Superintendent Brian Hay said in a press release.

It is unclear whether the use of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) will trigger any office response in the wardriving exercise. WEP has been broken for many years, and with Moore's Law, common laptops today can break the WEP encryption even faster. Older routers only provide protection via WEP, requiring a physical upgrade to newer equipment.

Rather, efforts appear to concentrate mainly on users who currently have no encryption whatsoever selected on their routers. The police are encouraging the use of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2) encryption on wireless networks.

The action in Queensland is not without precedent. In Mumbai, India, law enforcement has been notifying businesses and consumers alike about the dangers of unprotected Wi-Fi since 2009. The city, target of past terrorist attacks, is discouraging the use of anonymous Wi-Fi access as a means of protecting itself.

In Germany, courts have ruled that owners of unprotected Wi-Fi are subject to a fine if the signal is used to download illegally hosted music. There, a violation can cost you 100 Euros.

Whether this is the best use of law enforcement's time is debatable. What is not debatable is the value in securing private wireless networks. As more and more gadgets join the Internet of Things, providing street-level anonymous access to your digital TV, for example, might not be desirable.

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Robert Vamosi, CISSP, an award-winning journalist and analyst who has been covering digital security issues for more than a decade, is a senior analyst for Mocana, a device security start up. He is also the author of When Gadgets Betray Us and a contributing editor at PCWorld, a blogger at Forbes.com, and a former Senior Editor at CNET. He lives in Northern California.