Police in India sweep for unsecured Wi-Fi networks

Goal is to scan for Wi-Fi signals, identify those that are unsecured

The Mumbai, India, police are using a battery of devices to systematically identify and eliminate unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

The Mumbai, India, police have launched their previously announced plan to secure Wi-Fi networks. A team of police is using a battery of devices to systematically identify and eliminate unsecured Wi-Fi networks in the wake of last year's attacks, where terrorists used the Internet and other communications networks.

An 80-member team of police officers has been outfitted with Wi-Fi scanners, software, laptops and Internet-enabled mobile phones. Starting in the Bandra-Kurla Complex, a business hub in the west-central city suburb, the Wi-Fi cops will spread out through nearby residential areas. The goal is to scan for Wi-Fi signals, identify those that are unsecured, then either shut them down or have business and residential users take steps to protect them from unauthorized access.

The story is being reported by Cybermedia India Online Limited (CIOL), an Indian Web site focused on information technology.

The story quotes Sanjay Mohite, Deputy Commissioner of Mumbai Police: "It's an awareness campaign, where the police officials will educate the users about security aspect of Wi-Fi networks. And the officer's team will visit homes, schools, colleges and offices to check unsecured networks." The project, apparently unprecedented in its scale, was originally announced last September.

Terrorists in India used Wi-Fi networks and Internet services in a number of attacks last year, including the Ahmedabad serial blasts last July and the recent Mumbai attacks, according to the report.

Investigations of the blasts found that terrorists hacked a computer belonging to Kenneth Haywood, a U.S. citizen living in a Mumbai suburb, and used it to send e-mail shortly before the Ahmedabad bombs detonated.

Last September, an unsecured Wi-Fi network at Kamran Powers Control Private Limited was used by terrorists for e-mails following the bomb explosions in New Delhi.

Another unsecured Wi-Fi connection, this one at Mumbai's Khalso College, was used by terrorists to send e-mails to a media outlet, and to threaten police officers involved in the investigation, CIOL reports.

Making people aware of their unsecured wireless LAN (WLAN) is a start, but without some kind of technical help -- or at least the threat of sanctions -- many unskilled users are likely to find it difficult to figure out how to protect their connection. (Compare wireless LAN security products.) 

Unsecured Wi-Fi networks linked with broadband Internet connections appear to be the rule rather than the exception, as repeated studies have found. And while illicit use is not quite as common as the unsecured networks themselves, it's significant. A study last April by Accenture found that 12% of survey respondents, from the U.S. and U.K., said they logged into someone else's unsecured WLAN.

Last August, a group of researchers raised a balloon loaded with scanning gear 150 feet over Las Vegas. In 20 minutes, they identified 700 Wi-Fi signals, 30% of them unsecured, according to one account.

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