Posts Tagged ‘wifi’

“Hacking”, WiFi, and Journalism

25 February 2016

I’ve seen several variations of this story over the past couple days:

Steven Petrow, the journalist who had his computer hacked while on a flight, recounts his experience and what he learned.

Each version of the story I’ve seen has emphasized that the guy had his laptop hacked on a flight. He was using GoGo In Flight for in-flight WiFi.

For the record, the guy, or rather his computer, was not hacked.  He was sorta personally hacked in that he was given misinformation, but his machine was not compromised.  Some of his data was.

Let me explain the difference.  Mr. Petrow was on an airline flight, using his laptop, connected to the inflight WiFi.  The GoGo In Flight is an open WiFi access point.  This means there is no encryption.  Now, when you pay money (via a credit card transaction) to use GoGo, the transaction is encrypted using SSL between your computer and the GoGo server.  Once that’s done, the connection reverts to nonsecured, and you are connected to the Internet.

Mr. Petrow was using his computer to write an article, and submitted that article to his employer.  I’ve seen references to his sending it via email, but the mechanism is not clear.  Near him (and it doesn’t matter if near means the next seat over, or the back of the airplane), a guy was using a WiFi sniffer tool to watch the WiFi traffic.  Since the access point was open (no encryption), the “hacker” (although a better term might be “sniffer”) could see (and capture, if he wanted) every packet of traffic sent to and from the access point.

Now, a point that has to be made here is that anyone who was doing anything sensitive using a server that had even the least security on it would be using SSL encryption, which is between your device all the way to the server.  That traffic can be seen and captured, but it is encrypted, and would take a significant effort to decrypt (by significant, I’m talking years of computation).

So for the hacker/sniffer to see Mr. Petrow’s traffic, the traffic would have to have been unencrypted.  It could have been an unencrypted email (SMTP/POP3 protocol), or an unencrypted webmail.  Regardless, both email servers and clients, and web servers and web browsers, have had basic encryption built into them since the early 2000s.

So the hacker/sniffer saw the email with the article that was sent unencrypted.  The hacker/sniffer did not attack or tamper with the computer Mr. Petrow was using.  That is not being hacked, it is being eavesdropped on.

Whoever Mr. Petrow works for, their IT department should secure the server that the company uses to implement an encrypted link.  All major email servers and clients support encrypted connections.  All major webservers and browsers support encrypted connections.

So as to the sniffer/hacker, what he did is trivial from a technology standpoint.  I’ve used similar tools to look at WiFi traffic, on airplanes and elsewhere.  You might not be surprised, but while in hotels, I have seen examples of half of the connections being to porn sites.  Using sniffer tools, you get an idea as to why hotel WiFi is often so slow, when most of the connections are to streaming video sites (think porn, and Netflix, and Hulu).

The above might sound frightening, but I think most businesses that have an interest in keeping customer information safe (think banks) implement end-to-end encryption as a matter of course.  A news site like CNN might not care to encrypt the connection a site visitor is checking out, though.

The real issue here is that the story being reported is wrong.  It’s not a case of hacking, it’s really an example of not implementing best practice for securing data.  And that is something that is easily fixable, once you realize what the real problem is.


A W7 Wireless Oddity

4 November 2013

I learned something new this evening doing a Windows 7 installation.

I was installing W7 on my HP 6930p. I have had trouble installing XP and Vista on the 6930p in the past, but have never had an issue with the wifi device. In this case, I had no issues during the installation, and the wifi was correctly identified. The adapter showed up in the network devices list, and was enabled but it would not show any wireless networks.

I did Windows diagnostics, and Windows reported the following error: “Windows couldn’t automatically bind the IP protocol stack to the network adapter”. So I was off to Google, and Bing. I bet there were 100 topics addressing this error. Most of the suggestions were along the lines of “Re-install the latest version of the driver”. One from a Microsoft tech rep (who obviously was not in possession of a single clue) said that the problem could be fixed by running a surface scan. I read most of the suggestions. Some of them I tried, but do no help. I didn’t focus a lot of work on this problem; I had a good wired connection that was working fine, and I’m just experimenting with this Windows installation.

But I was working on something else here, and I had a flash that maybe the Windows Wireless Zero Configuration Service was not started. It took a couple extra steps, but I found the Services menu. Hmmm, no Wireless Zero Configuration Service. But… there was a WLAN AutoConfig that was disabled, right under the Wired AutoConfig that was enabled. I enabled the WLAN AutoConfig entry, then started it, waited a couple seconds, then unplugged my network cable.

I watched the wireless icon in the taskbar pop up “Connections are available”, and then connected to my house wifi, and it was up and running.

I think it’s kind of less than smart to find and install a wireless device, but not automagically start the service that makes it go. Live and learn.

An Annoying Windows Bug

4 June 2012

I got very annoyed when XP Pro introduced a “feature” that automatically shuts off wifi whenever a wired connection was active. There is no good reason for this. I used the ability to share connections.

Another thing is vexing me now. My machine was docked, and I did a suspend. Now Windows refuses to re-enable the wifi. It requires an admin credential to re-enable. This persists through a complete restart.

In the past, I have to boot off another media (like System Rescue CD), re-enable the wifi, and then restart Windows.

So thanks, Microsoft, for doing everything possible to limit connectivity.

Hooray for Google

17 November 2009

I’m at OKC waiting to board for my latest trip. This is one of the airports where Google is footing the bill for people to use wifi for free through the holidays.

Wifi ought to be free at the airports anyway. More enlightened airports have provided it for a long time (COS, SMF, TPA, and MCO come to mind).

So hooray for Google. Maybe increased usage here will get the airport authority to offer it for free for those of us trapped in airports often.

Wi-Fi in the Air

14 July 2009

We’ve had Internet service on the E-4B for about five years now. It’s slowly coming up on commercial birds now. I flew up to Omaha a couple weeks ago, and the bird had a Wi-Fi terminal that extended over an air-to-ground link to the Internet. I didn’t try it then, since it was way early in the morning.

Both my OKC-DFW and DFW-TPA Super 80s today had the same setup. I decided to try it out. It worked well. Even Outlook connected with my Exchange server with no glitches. It’s a bit expensive – $10 per flight segment. I will not be using it often, that’s for sure. But if something is going on where connectivity is a hard requirement even during the couple hours of a flight, it’s there and it works.