Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Computer Warning

On days like today--sunny, in the 60s, feeling lulled by my neighbors' lawn mowers--it takes a great effort to focus on paying work and doing what I'm supposed to do. But book releases will not be postponed for me.

So why is this entry called "Computer Warning"? You're thinking, God I hope it's not one of those stupid urban legends that needs to be refuted at :-) Nothing like that, but first I should say that I share some computer geeks' irreverence for certain social mores, particularly as they relate to corporate dress codes and the importance of influencing people. That said...

One of my current freelance projects is called Geek Gap, about how tech people and businesspeople don't speak the same language yet need to work together. The authors explain how a computer geek can get a free ride on your wireless network if it isn't secure. The authors explain how a homemade "cantenna" made from a potato chip container can be used to get such a free ride, just as a friend of theirs did so he could check his e-mail on someone else's dime.

Though the authors maintain that the typical geek is more interested in finding insecure networks than actually using them (for good or ill), the writers seem flippant about the legalities and the ethics of tapping, uninvited, into another person's computer network. For instance, they say that this kind of activity is "a heck of a lot of fun" for some geeks.

They also say that legally "this might be considered theft of services," but that it's "like complaining that a stranger who enters your living room is stealing your air."

Um, I call that breaking and entering!

"Still," the authors continue, "we don't support stealing, and the safest course is to ask politely before accessing someone else's wireless network." Right.

In fact, the Wireless Geographic Logging Engine was formed with the purpose of identifying every single wireless network in the world. WiGLE, as it's called (it, of course, has a Web site), has found more than 5 million networks so far and has turned the search into a game for computer geeks attending DefCon, an annual techie con in Vegas. What the WiGLE folks have done or will do with the information is, of course, beyond me.

Is this really all in fun, or are these people cyberthugs in training?

What I'm working on today: The Geek Gap by Bill Pfleging and Minda Zetlin; Wine Access Buyer's Guide by Steve Tanzer and Wine Access; and For the Love of A Dog by Patricia B. McConnell.

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