Internet: FBI nabs WiFI wardrivers
I report. You decide. Here's the story.
Two young fellows, full of their internet techology oats, like to go wardriving. For the unitiated, wardriving is the automobile version of warchalking. A person uses either software or hardware to locate WiFi (802.11) networks. If the network is unsecured, one can access it. For example, it is not unusual for neighbors to piggyback on the unencrypted signal from the guy on the third floor or the gal in the home across the street. I have a friend who used the wireless connection of the folks in the house on the corner for two years, saving himself an estimated $2500. (He was borrowing the people's ISP account, as well as their wireless signal.) This is an everyday occurrence. But, things get hairy if the donor is a powerful corporation.
Robert Vamosi, at ZDNet's Anchordesk delves deeper.
It started out as a simple wardriving exercise. In the spring of 2003, Paul Timmins , 23, and Adam Botbyl, now 21, were out wardriving in Southfield, Michigan. They were members of Michigan 2600, a group of local hackers who meet periodically over Coke and pizza to share new techniques and skills, but which discourages its members from accessing networks illegally or committing any crimes in general. (Remember, it's legal to wardrive, but it's illegal to access found networks.)
At some point in their wardriving experience, Timmins and Botbyl came upon a Lowe's hardware store with an open wireless network. Timmins later admitted to Kevin Poulsen of Security Focus that what he did next was technically illegal: he used the Lowe's network to check his e-mail. When he realized it was Lowe's private network, however, he says, he disconnected.
Enter the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Timmins was identified. Once the FBI enters the picture, the barriers normal folks would have to penetrate to learn someone's identity fall like a gentle spring rain. Besides, Timmins made it easy. Leaving the route to one's email account is not exactly brilliant. He was charged with a single count of unauthorized computer access. His conviction, last year, was the first of its kind involving a wireless network.
Our star-crossed wardrivers were not finished. Botbyl found another partner in crime, Brian Salcedo.
Knowing the Lowe's wireless corporate network was exposed, the pair gained access on October 25, 2003. This time, they routed through the company's North Carolina headquarters, then out to the satellite stores nationwide. Log files show they connected to several stores located in California, as well as Florida, South Dakota, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Kansas.
While inside the Lowe's system, they found a custom app, Tcpcredit, which Lowe's uses to process credit card purchases. On November 5, 2003, from the parking lot of the Lowe's in Southfield, Michigan, the pair attempted to load an unspecified malicious program on several computers in a Long Beach, California, store. It might have been an early attempt to capture credit card transactions, but the app crashed several point-of-sale machines at the store.
Already familiar with Timmins and Botbyl's location and modus operandi, it did not take the FBI long to close in. They apprehended Botbyl and Salcedo on November 11, after some confusion over whether Timmins had been present on November 5 or the next day, during another wardriving episode.
Botbyl and Salcedo face 16 counts , including conspiracy, wire fraud, computer fraud, unauthorized computer access, intentional transmission of computer code, and attempted possession of unauthorized access devices (which includes the use of illegally obtained passwords).
Obviously, these twenty-somethings, despite their Internet savvy, are not as smart as they think they are. But, one would be remiss not to identify the really stoo-pid party in this situation -- Lowe's. Months passed between the two warchalking episodes. Yet, the company did nothing to protect the personal information of its customers from prying eyes in its stores and parking lots. Reportedly, the second store lacked even elementary, WEP, encryption. Vamosi has a suggestion I heartily agree with: Pass laws that make it incumbent on corporations to protect consumer data from wireless intrusion. Prosecute those who do not.
The nature of American law is that corporations have the advantages over individuals in most respects. However, corporate personnel often fail to earn the protected status of the corporate entity through negligence such as these warchalking incidents demonstrate. Timmins, Botbyl and Salcedo have been held responsible for the errors of judgment. Lowe's should be, too.
What's the art?
Ready for wardriving. The WiFi card is circled.