law & ethics
Aust & NZ
note considers warchalking and wardriving, ie mapping
wireless access to the internet and intranets.
It covers -
supplements the broader discussion elsewhere on this site
regarding internet security, network governance and matters
such as cybercafes and wireless access in Australasia.
The following page of this note discusses the legal status
and ethics of warchalking and wardriving before offering
pointers to primers and studies.
Despite the name, warchalking and wardriving
have little to do with war - of the traditional or cyber
varieties - or terrorism. Instead, they relate to identifying
and mapping wireless access points (AP), in particular
individual devices or intranets that are inadequately
protected and are thus open to unauthorised users.
That activity encompasses a cultural phenomenon - the
21st century equivalent of train spotting or bird watching
- and a minor industry that involves hackers and crackers
in defence or unauthorised access to devices and networks.
The term 'wardriving' supposedly derives from phone phreak
era 'war dialing', ie hacker exploits in dialing phone
number after number to identify and then access modems.
The emergence of wireless networks - discussed here
and here - following development
of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers
(IEEE) 802.11 standard was reflected in recognition that
existence of secure and non-secure networks could be
readily ascertained by observers with little equipment
and without extensive training or expertise
protection of many networks was inadequate or indeed
US observer thus wrote
people all over the country realized that their wireless
devices could be set to scan for AP's, then throw 'em
into their backpacks and walk around the financial district
until they had several dozen free internet connections.
took that identification from the backpacks and footpaths
onto the road, with people engaging in 'drive-by' discovery
of open and closed wireless access points.
It is a phenomenon that has continued, with some enthusiasts
reporting their discoveries in lists and maps of considerable
sophistication (including interactive online mapping that
features GIS data and details about individual APs).
Warchalking - hyped by the mass media - appears to have
been as evanescent as the chalk markings on some pavements
to indicate an adjacent open AP. It is of interest as
a digital culture fad that didn't last the distance.
APs are identifiable because they signal their presence
at specific intervals (typically 100 milliseconds) by
broadcasting a packet that features an individual service
set identifier (SSID) and other data elements. That signal
is of low intensity, generally restricted to a radius
of 100 metres and affected by attenuation such as water,
architectural features or security shielding.
Wireless-equipped laptops, personal computers and other
devices (such as personal digital assistants) are able
to detect the signal. That is necessary if they are to
join a network and allow the user to exchange information
with an individual device or a network of devices (including
devices that provide a bridge to the internet).
As we have noted in discussing
networking and the GII, a wireless capacity is now a standard
feature on much new equipment. Devices can also be augmented
with tools to detect and process AP signals and external
antennae, particularly when using a motor vehicle. A range
of free and commercial 'stumbling utility' software can
be used for example to record data transmitted by an AP;
some products incorporate global positioning system coordinates
that provide the basis for producing electronic maps.
Wardriving was initially conducted manually - some reports
featured tales of ballpoint pens and Pringles
can antennae - but came of age in 2001 with development
by Marius Milner and Peter Shipley
of dedicated AP software that readily integrated GPS location
data with databases of detected APs.
Wardriving has flourished since that time, through word
of mouth, media coverage, industry claims of varying accuracy
and newsgroups or specialist sites such as wardriving.com,
some of which feature lists and maps. Examples of maps
Much wardriving does not actually involve automobiles.
We are aware of two enthusiasts who use a bicycle in wardriving;
one contact in Australia has used a helicopter and - more
scarily, at least for people in his flight path - a light
plane. In major urban centres it is arguably easier to
engage in 'warwalking', roam the strrets with a PDA running
a stumbling utility like MiniStumbler. Fans have also
referred to 'warcabbing' - nothing more elaborate than
watching a laptop in the back seat of a taxi.
Wartrapping, promoted by security consultants, comprises
a 'honeypot' AP - one that features monitoring software
aimed at determining the level of wardriving and attempted
Wardriving first attracted attention in the mass media
because of warchalking, which became a fashion - arguably
now past - among undergraduates, high school geeks and
the post-secondary tech community. Having identified a
wireless AP those tech savvy users would 'mark the spot'
with a chalk symbol on the pavement, bin or building.
In December 2002 warchalking was named one of the "100
most significant ideas of the year" by zeitgeist
sniffers at the New York Times Magazine.
Chalking supposedly originated with blog
entry by London-based information architect Matt Jones,
with the expectation that warchalk symbols would provide
a sufficient visual cue for attempting a connection from
a laptop or PDA. Such marks would supposedly "encourage
newcomers and initiate conversations between Wi-Fi users,
network operators and others". The chalking was spun
as "runes" or "a modern version of the
hobo sign language used by low-tech kings of the road
to alert each other to shelter, food and potential trouble".
That led John Hiler to rosily characterise chalking as
storm" confluence of "three favorite tech themes"
It's got Wi-Fi. It's got the tie-in to hobo language,
which is really cool from a linguistics point of view.
And it ties into the spirit of democracy, which was
the original intention of the Web. It's the subversive
idea of giving the finger to the local land-line monopoly.
Boutin in the usually starry-eyed Wired News commented
in 2002 that "Warchalking, it seems, is so cool it
doesn't even matter if anyone is really doing it or not".
Christian Sandvig more incisively commented
that warchalking is entirely a media phenomenon
it is a beautiful idea, but it doesn't make any sense
as a directory service to find Wi-Fi. It is too easy
to miss a warchalk mark, and the chalk wears away (or
washes away in the rain) too quickly. Warchalking symbols
were heavily promoted in the New York Times
just *48 hours* after they were first made public on
the Web. There was a subsequent wave of media stories
about warchalking, giving everyone ideas. Every single
occurrence of chalk I've found can be attributed to
chalkers who want to self-promote their own mark. So
I believe that people *do* rarely make warchalking marks
for various reasons (to be cool, to advertise for their
own network) but I *don't* believe that people use warchalking
marks in a meaningful way to find Wi-Fi.
years later, although APs continue to proliferate, there's
little sign of ongoing warchalk activity on the ground
or in the mass media. Among the young digerati with whom
we are in contact the idea of chalking is at best regarded
statistics and mapping
In discussing Australian and New Zealand wireless access
we have noted that figures about the number of open and
closed APs are contentious. There are few authoritative
industry or government accounts, although it is clear
from equipment sales figures and from anecdotal reporting
that the number of APs is continuing to grow rapidly -
particularly as many organisations seek to contain network
deployment and maintenance costs by using wireless rather
than wired LANs in their premises.
The immaturity of the industry means that an indeterminate
number of sites appear to be open to unauthorised access,
whether deliberately or through poor design and maintenance.
Within a few kilometres of the Canberra CBD for example
there are approximately 180 access points, of which as
many as 100 are unsecured as of August 2004. A December
2003 wardrive in Auckland identified around 700 wireless
APs, of which around 60% were unsecured. Some overseas
statistics from the annual 'Official WorldWide WarDrive'
There have been no major studies of wardriving and chalking
as avocations. It is unclear how many people engage in
driving, mapping and chalking on a short term or ongoing
basis. Examination of participation in online fora suggests
that numbers are not particularly large.
Vendors of network protection solutions have, however,
argued that a "significant" number engage in
casual or sustained driving at any one time and that much
of the activity extends beyond identifying APs to unauthorised
grazing of private information and offences such as release
of viruses or spam.
Driving as a mechanism for legitimate acqusition of geospatial
data has attracted some commercial attention, given the
muddiness of much hotspot mapping and industry analysis.
US specialist Quarterscope for example, in building a
commercial AP database to deploy location based applications,
that it is
to pay wardrivers for past and future GPS located scans.
We will pay between $0.01-$0.05 per access point depending
on the priority of the area (NYC versus Topeka) and
the quality of the data (number of GPS locations per
somewhat different approach has been taken by the 'open
demographics and industry
Detailed statistics on the size and shape of the wardriving
population are unavailable.
That is unsurprising, given that wardriving is a 'fringe'
activity (consistent both with concerns regarding legality
and, more importantly, the frisson associated with the
mixture of expertise and naughtiness).
Anecdotal indications suggest that in Australia and other
western nations most non-professional wardriving is what
one observer unkindly characterised as "black t-shirt
homosocial" - predominantly white, male, under 25,
tech literate and involving two or more friends in a car.
Much of it is presumably undertaken "because it's
there" and doesn't involve the pizza-deprivation
experienced by mountaineers.
One US driver thus commented in 2004 that
those of us that do wardrive, we're not interested in
how many systems we can hack, or trading warez, or any
of that -- we just want to see where and how many.
Proponents such as John Duntemann argue that
provides a unique opportunity to gauge the growth of
a technology market segment by direct inspection . In
other words, we don't have to take a vendor's or research
firm's word for how many wireless networks are out there.
We can go out and look for ourselves. This isn't possible
for things like digital cameras and DVD burners. In
conjunction with some understanding of the demographics
of an area, it's possible to use wardriving data to
get a sense for how "connected" or "tech
savvy" a neighborhood or region is.
The number and severity of wi-fi based offences is unknown.
Its flipside, as with other cracking, is the market for
defensive services. Konstantin Gavrilenko commented
in 2004 that
market for wireless security is really huge, mainly
due to the fact that despite all the media buzz, majority
of companies still do not fully understand the potential
vulnerabilities that wireless networks can bring into
their existing IT infrastructure. We do wardrive often,
for the purpose of collecting statistical data of the
overall protection level of wireless networks, obviously
staying within the legal limits, and we have to say
that the picture is worrying. We have seen quite a few
rather large multinationals employing unprotected wireless
access to their internal network. Some of them have
improved over the time, turning on basic WEP. However,
the biggest challenge in our business, is that you do
know that the company is vulnerable, however, you can
not go and inform them. The initiative has to come from
the client itself, who should realize the severity of
the problem and come to us for advice and complete solution.
May 2010 Google attracted criticism in Europe, Australia
and other locations after disclosure that the vehicles
used for its global street photography exercise had been
collecting wireless internet information along with the
images. Both data sets of course are tied to GPS information.
next part (wardriving
law and ethics)