news As part of the National Consumer Fraud Week currently underway, the Queensland Police Service is launching a new project aimed at encouraging the public to check their wireless internet connection and ensure it is secure, which entails it driving around the state and detecting unsecured wireless networks.
The so-called ‘War Driving Project’ has been rolled out by the Queensland police under the aegis of the State Crime Operations Command’s Fraud and Corporate Crime Group. As part of this drive, police are planning to conduct patrols of residential and commercial areas to identify unprotected internet connections. This would be followed by a letter dropped into letterboxes in the area which would contain information on how to effectively secure Internet connections. Detective Superintendent Brian Hay, however, urged the public to proactively check their Internet connections at the earliest instead of waiting for the police drive to begin.
Hay said police have identified a large number of homes and businesses within the greater Brisbane area with unsecure wireless connections – these are vulnerable to easy hacking and infiltration. In addition to exposing their personal data like bank statements and credit card numbers to fraudsters, subscribers are at high risk of becoming targets of online fraud. Hay highlighted the danger this spelt to the Internet subscriber when he remarked that these people may as well put their bank account details, passwords and personal details on a billboard on the side of the highway.
A similarly dangerous trend in Sydney was recently brought to light by a Fairfax investigation that discovered unsecured Wi-Fi networks in 10 out of 20 residential locations visited during a test across Sydney. Estimates put the number of unsecured networks across Sydney at more than 10,000.
The Queensland Police Service News article also highlighted that ‘open’ wireless connections (access points) were the biggest concern for the police – where a hacker could gain entry into the network and access such a connection, leading to identity theft. Another off-shoot of an ‘open’ connection is that a Wi-Fi hijacker could easily monitor online activities of the subscriber.
Likewise, the police are also apprehensive about access points that use ‘WEP’ (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption as their only means of security. This is an old-fashioned form of encryption that offers limited protection. “Having WEP encryption is like using a closed screen door as your sole means of security at home,” observed Hay. He strongly recommended the WPA or WPA2 security encryption as it offered a higher degree of protection.
Additional information on the War Driving Project or for tips on how to secure your Internet connection, are available on the Queensland Police Service website. The Queensland Police requests anyone with information that could assist the police in their investigations to contact Crime Stoppers anonymously via 1800 333 000 or through its website.
A number of readers have contacted Delimiter over the past few days highlighting issues they have with the Queensland Police’s actions in this area. There are a variety of questions which should be asked about the initiative, such as the issue of whether Queensland Police will be retaining the data they collect from scanning the networks, whether they will be connecting to the Wi-Fi networks themselves in order to verify they are unsecured (which potentially represents trespassing), whether they will be keeping records of where unsecured Wi-Fi networks exist and so on. There is also the issue of whether the initiative is actually worthwhile in terms of dedicating police resources to it — and the fact that some people may in fact leave their Wi-Fi networks open by choice, to encourage neighbours to use their Internet.
It’s worth noting that back in 2010, Google Australia got itself in a massive amount of hot water for driving around and scanning Wi-Fi networks. At the time, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy claimed the search giant’s actions constituted “the largest privacy breach in the history of Western democracies”. Could Queensland Police be about to commit a similar action?
Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay