The Rat fills the ether with WiFi insecurities

The Rat isn't very fond of wireless technology. Ever since he discovered that he could cook his lunch by leaving it near Marconi's workbench, he has regarded with suspicion any device that blasts out radio-frequency energy.

Marconi's workbench, he has regarded with suspicion any device that blasts out radio frequency energy.

So when the whiskered one's CIO started pushing him to test IEEE 802.11b WiFi wireless networks around the agency, he pushed back.

'What is this, a federal agency or a Starbucks?' the Rat asked rhetorically. 'Do we want people to work or to sit around the lobby surfing with a cappuccino in hand?'

'Do you want to spend your budget on new servers or on cable runs?' responded the CIO without batting an eye at the insubordination. 'Besides, we need wireless capability for the new voice over IP phone system we'll be putting in next year.'

'Great,' grumbled the Rat as he left the office. 'Now I'll be able to pick up calls to the help desk on my molar fillings.'

The Rat must admit he wouldn't mind never again having to pull cables and polish fiber ends because some manager decided to rearrange desks or expand a field office.

He also recognizes the appeal of ad hoc wireless networking. Personally, he's a little envious of the guys he meets at conferences who surf the Web from their WiFi-enabled handhelds and sync up their calendars from their notebook PCs without having to lug extra pounds of wire around with them.

In weaker moments, he's found himself fantasizing about WiFi browsing implants with telescoping antennae that extend on demand.

'You've been watching too many 'My Favorite Martian' reruns on Nick at Night,' sighed Mrs. Rat when he revealed that particular fantasy.

But as sure as loose bits sink ships, the convenience of ether-based Ethernet will come with a few too many stray packets.

The underlying security of WiFi is based on something called Wired Equivalent Privacy, which uses RC4 encryption. Unfortunately, the manner in which it uses the RC4 cipher has been shown to be crackable with off-the-shelf hack tools.

It's even been shown to be crackable by two ratlings with a 486 notebook and a Fuzzbuster radar/laser detector.

The Rat got suspicious when he found an evaluation agreement for an Apple AirPort card with a series of poor attempts to forge his signature.

He tracked his offspring to the backyard, where they had built a dish antenna with aluminum foil and coat hangers. The AirPort card and the radar detector were lashed to the middle with duct tape.

The younger brother stood atop the family barbecue grill holding the dish steady, while the elder sat on the ground giving him directions from the notebook readings.

'A little to the left. ... OK, higher ... Got it! Aw, never mind. It's just someone surfing porn sites from their backyard. Bring it up a few degrees.'

The Rat cleared his throat and fielded the younger offspring as he fell off the barbecue.

'I believe there's a federal career for you yet,' sighed the cyberrodent. 'At the National Security Agency.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].


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