My Wifi Rant

This one has been a long time gestating, but today’s New York Times completely pushed me over the edge (Link: The New York Times > Technology > Growth of Wireless Internet Opens New Path for Thieves.)

As I make my travels through the Northeast, I’m stunned by how many wifi networks my Mac encounters–and how many of them are password protected. Waiting in the doctor’s office, for example, I find five networks. And every one of them is closed.

Why on earth would someone go to the trouble to do this?

I mean, I’m sitting at an ad agency or a cosmetic firm and their network is closed. I’m standing outside of an office building and there are 18 networks and all of them are closed. All of them!

It’s like having a television on and intentionally putting up blinders so that certain people can’t watch it. Worse, it’s like making an apple pie and putting nose plugs on people who would like to smell it! (I like pie, not crazy about TV).

Having the wifi network in your lobby or your waiting room or in the street under your window open to guests will not compromise the security of your files. You need a different sort of security for that. And it won’t degrade your net performance much either (hey, if it does, you can always turn the password on again, cursing me out as you do). [NB I’m not a computer security expert, and I’m not making a statement about the risk to your data. What I am saying is that if you’re dealing in stuff that’s super confidential–like medical records or which Congressman is breaking which law–then you’ve got no business using a wifi network anyway.]

And yet, here comes the influential Times with an urgent warning that all sorts of pedophiles, car bombers–hey, even people who do graffiti or spit on the street–are using this major hole in our security networks to do bad deeds. Since the article focuses on the dreaded "data thieves" it’s easy to assume that they’re stealing data from the networks. They’re not. They’re just hiding from the FBI. But if everyone jumps up and down and starts closing their networks, these data thieves will just take one of their stolen credit cards and go to Starbucks!

There were no razor blades in apples on Halloween when we were growing up. Did you know that? Really. They made it up. Someone should tell the Times and its readers that if you want to be anonymous on the Net, you can go to Kinko’s or go to Bryant Park or the library. It’s certainly not necessary to scare the nation into closing their wifi hot spots.