'Wardrivers' warn: secure your internet

Two young Winnipeggers are on a crusade to help computer users protect themselves from hackers who could use their internet access for nefarious purposes.

Two young Winnipeggers are on a crusade to help computer users protect themselves from hackers who could use their internet access for nefarious purposes.

Theodore Baschak, 22, and Jason Lee, 17, call themselves "wardrivers." They drive around the city with a global positioning system, an antenna and a laptop, picking up signals from people's wireless routers.

Many users don't realize their wireless router has a range of about 30 metres or more, well beyond the walls of their homes.

Baschak and Lee have mapped out more than 6,000 wireless access points in Winnipeg; they estimate more than 60 per cent of people don't secure their wireless connections with passwords or encryption, leaving them open to use by anyone looking for it.

"Anyone can walk by with a wireless-enabled notebook and connect anonymously to the internet, browse their network and do anything they want, without anyone being able to trace it back to them," says Lee.

"They could go on the internet, hack websites, surf child porn – anything malicious that they want to, and it would be anonymous."

In 2003, a Toronto man was charged after police found him driving half-naked, using a wireless internet connection from nearby houses to download child porn. Winnipeg police say that hasn't happened here – but the potential exists.

While the hacker remains anonymous, however, the activity could be traced back to the owner of the router. And aside from being unwilling participants in illegal or unscrupulous activity, people with unsecure wireless access points may also be opening their home computers and networks to hackers – essentially giving free access to their financial or personal information.

Security just a few clicks away

CBC News took to the streets with the wardrivers in the River Heights area of Winnipeg, finding numerous "wifi hotspots" without protection. While Lee and Baschak don't normally contact homeowners directly about the problem, CBC knocked on a few doors.

"I'm speechless. I'm shocked," said Daria Kiperchuk, when informed her wireless signal was available to anyone on the street.

"I think it's not uncommon that people my age – over 50 – rely on the younger generation," she says. "I think I'm going to have a chat with a few people that live in this house."

Fixing the problem is simple: just turn the router's security features on, a simple instruction found in the router's manual.

"I think it's a really serious problem because it shows a complacency in users: you plug it in, it works, you don't bother securing it," says Baschak. He and Lee are trying to get the message out through their website, WpgWiFi.com.

Winnipeg police plan to launch a campaign to help make Winnipeggers aware of the risks of not securing their wireless systems.

Links related to this story:


  • WINNIPEG WIFI: More on wardriving in Winnipeg