Vulnerable Networks 'Good Guy' Hacker Makes Easy Work of Wireless Network Security in Area

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Blanchard, Times-Union staff writer

Hopping into a car with Joe Klein for a quick jaunt around town is like stumbling into the ultimate high-tech mobile work space.

He hooks his laptop computer to an AC adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter, sticks an antenna through a gap in the sunroof and connects it to a network card in the laptop, then he fires up a software program that can monitor wireless data networks.

Then he drives by businesses to see if he can access their wireless computer networks.

"You'll get a kick out of this one," he said as he drives by a large Jacksonville business.

A "bing" signals another network transmission is recorded on his laptop. Then, Klein watches as a small light changes from red to yellow to green. A green light means he would have high-speed access to a nearby wireless network and, potentially, the inner workings of the company's computer system.

Klein is known as a "good guy" hacker. He's not trying to break into company networks. He is a data security consultant who is trying to identify those networks that are vulnerable to hacker attacks.

During a recent two-hour trip around town, Klein accessed transmissions from 58 wireless local area networks. These are networks that allow computers to communicate with each other without the need for network cables. They are growing in popularity for both business and home use.

A large majority of wireless local area networks in Jacksonville should be considered insecure and highly vulnerable to hacker attacks, Klein said.

Only five of the 58 wireless networks accessed during the drive could be considered secure, Klein said. Of these, 44 were using default network passwords or passwords loosely based on the companies' names, and only 13 were using a protocol that makes their wireless networks more secure. The five Klein identifies as being the most secure of the 58 were both using the protocol and not using a common name for passwords.

However, he said, because all of these 58 wireless network transmissions extended beyond their buildings, all could be considered potentially vulnerable to hacker attacks. None of those companies are being identified for security reasons.

"Think about it," Klein said during the tour. "A remote office sets up a wireless local area network for the convenience of their workers and opens up the company's whole worldwide network to hackers."

Klein will be one of about 100 exhibitors during the fifth annual Jacksonville ITEC trade show that opens today at the Prime Osborn Convention Center. The show is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow. Highlighted topics include small business solutions, data management, wireless technologies, a security theater, new and emerging technologies, document retention and disaster recovery.

Jacksonville ITEC is produced by Imark Communications, which produces 48 regional technology shows around the country, said Angela Corman, event manager. The local show is presented by Gateway and Intel, which will combine to offer a learning lab at the show. …