Recently one evening, I decided to spend some time engaging in the Geek sport of war driving. It's much more innocent than it sounds. War driving consists of driving around in your car with a laptop that is wireless, or 'wifi', capable. Some war drivers use special wireless antennae to look for wireless spots. If you want to know more, search for 'pringles can antenna'. Seriously.
I was using a simple Netgear wireless card on my IBM T20 Thinkpad. The computer is running Windows XP on 512M of memory. It's a cheap, reliable set up.
The term 'war driving' comes from back in the day when you had to use phone connections instead of satellite or cable. Most of the time, the computer you wanted to get access to only had one phone line. Often, you didn't know what the number of the other computer was. So, you would set up your computer to dial a range of numbers. If it hit a human or a fax machine, it would take the number off the list. If it reached another computer, it would add it to the 'good' list for you to play around with later. This aggressive search was called 'war dialing' which was coined from the Mathew Broderick 1983 movie Wargames.
War Driving comes from the idea that when you are driving around looking for these 'hot spots' you are using brute force to find wireless connections.
While driving around a light industrial area and a residential area, I came up with about 30 network connections using a program called Network Stumbler. This program is available for free on the Internet and works with most wireless cards. You start it up and let it listen for any networks in range. It will tell you what sort of connection it is, the strength, other assorted information and most importantly, if the connection has security enabled. This is a type of encryption that will only allow computers that know the encryption key to access the network. If you don't have any encryption set, anyone with a wireless capable computer can access the Internet through your network at the very least. Like the guy sitting out in his car with a laptop across the street from your house.
Okay, that's no biggie you think. So my neighbor, or anyone else with a computer with wifi, is using my network to check his mail. So what?
Well, lots of "so what". First off, he is using up your bandwidth. Bandwidth is the amount of data you can send and receive to the Internet. If your connection is slow at certain times, how do you know that your neighbor isn't downloading big files, like music or movies?
Generally, if you have a wireless connection in your home, it's via a router. The way it works is that your connection to the Internet comes in through your cable or DSL via a modem. This goes into the router and the connection is dispersed out to the various computers on your network. All the Internet provider can see is your one connection that is the router. It can't tell what or how many computers are on the other side of the router. So, your neighbor is using your bandwidth to download movies. With children.
When the FBI knocks down your door, try to convince them it wasn't you. They'll have all the proof they need to show that the end of the line was your house.