It's not exactly rocket science to detect Wi-Fi networks, but a new device is helping law enforcement detect wireless networks and locate individuals who are suspected of downloading child pornography. At the Crimes Against Children Conference, Fluke Networks announced that police are using a "one-button interface" on AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester to:
- drive by a suspected location and identify all the wireless networks in use;
- utilize the product's directional antenna to determine if a wireless network inside a suspect's location is secured or unsecured;
- more confidently enter the suspect's location, if they determine a wireless network is secured, knowing that illegal Internet content is being downloaded from within that residence;
- track the suspected client (laptop, smartphone, etc.) location if a wireless network is determined to be unsecured, since there is a chance a non-resident is piggybacking onto the resident's wireless network from a nearby location and downloading child pornography.
According to the AirCheck Wi-fi Tester Datasheet for Law Enforcement [PDF], the AirCheck WiFi Tester identifies security settings and "pinpoints" how much bandwidth each Access Point (AP) channel is consuming, flags unauthorized APs and helps "hunt them down with the LOCATE function or find them even faster with the optional directional antenna." Police are encouraged to "press one key" to record "all collected details for configuration, APs, probing clients, channel usage and connection details for documentation to be shared or archived."
If the wireless network is secured, then Fluke says the police can "confidently enter the suspect residence" since the "offender is the person downloading illegal content from the secured wireless network." If, however, the wireless network is open, then law enforcement is advised to consider the person inside the residence may be stealing Wi-Fi from an unsecured network. "Your department may be required to pay for any damage caused when entering the residence is the offender is not inside."
Law enforcement is advised to "know before you go" and bust into a residence of a potentially innocent person with an open wireless signal. If the signal is open, then Fluke says to conduct a stakeout in which the police use the AirCheck WiFi Tester to track down the open wireless network used by "misbehaving clients," to lock onto the suspect's device which is "most likely" a laptop, and to graph the device in order to locate it. If the "misbehaving clients" are piggybacking or stealing access from an open wireless network, then the AirCheck Law Enforcement Evaluation Guide [PDF] explains how to use the directional antenna to locate and graph the signal strength. It suggests that the easiest way to locate the device is while the suspect is downloading large images or videos.
Sergeant Dave Mathers, head of the Electronic Crimes Unit of the City of Martinez CA Police Department has been using the AirCheck WiFi Tester. Sgt. Mathers said, "It provides us and additional layer of certainty that the person we are targeting is, in fact, the suspect that we are looking for. We don't have to go in blindly anymore."
Besides hunting down child predators, Fluke Networks says law enforcement can also use the device to help combat other cybercrimes and track "a suspect for illegal Internet activity." AirCheck has successfully been used in investigations involving Internet stalking, identity theft and phishing scams.
You know, secured wireless networks can be cracked. Since Fluke said police can rest-assured that a suspect downloading illegal content on a secured network is the offender, I'm curious to see what happens when an innocent person wrongfully gets busted.
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Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. Smith has a diverse background in information technology, programming, web development, IT consulting, and information security. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.
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