Friday, April 27, 2007

Public Wi-Fi may turn your life into an open notebook

LOS ANGELES TIMES - By David Colker, Times Staff Writer - April 22, 2007

No one in the evening crowd at a Starbucks in Pasadena knew Humphrey Cheung.

But Cheung, quietly sipping hot chocolate and working on his laptop, knew things about them.

Several tables away was a guy sitting alone with his own laptop. "He's starting a business," Cheung said. And the young couple in the far corner? "They're getting married," he confided.

Cheung isn't psychic. He had hacked into the coffee shop's wireless Internet connection on his Toshiba laptop. It took him all of about five minutes to do so, using free software available online.

Public Wi-Fi is very handy for perusing the Internet away from the office or home. Just remember that you may have company while surfing.

Once hooked into the system, Cheung was able to monitor the online activity of other laptops in the shop.

Luckily for the people around him, he wasn't snooping for any reason except to make a point: As wireless hot spots proliferate, the tools for secretly monitoring these Internet connections are becoming more sophisticated.

"When people are on a public wireless connection, they have the same expectations about privacy as when they are on the Internet at home," said Cheung, 32, a computer security expert and an editor for TG Daily, a technology news website.

"But it doesn't work that way. Someone could be listening in."

Cheung was using a "sniffer" program that intercepted online signals as they flew back and forth from the laptops to a wireless modem hidden somewhere amid the coffee paraphernalia. - - - -

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