Local teens warn of the dangers of unprotected Wi-Fi connection
Mar 12, 2013 (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Nearly a month ago a small group of Cedar Falls teenagers piled into a car to spend an afternoon driving through the city.
They meticulously worked their way through mostly residential areas bordered by the University of Northern Iowa, Fourth Street, Hudson Road and Main Street. They stopped periodically to use a long-range wireless antenna to scan wireless Internet connections up to several blocks away.
What they found surprised them. If their sample neighborhoods are representative of the city on a whole, the students estimated that about 1,200 -- or 17 percent -- of the available Wi-Fi connections in Cedar Falls are not protected.
"We want to get out to the public that this is a fairly big issue that all these networks are unsecure," said Rowen Conry, a junior at Cedar Falls High School. "Anyone could get on one and do whatever they want. Legalwise, it's still in the gray area who is held responsible when something goes down on someone's system. So, if you have an unsecure Wi-Fi it may cause trouble for you."
The students, who all attended Northern University High School before its closure, undertook the project as part of the upcoming IT-Olympics Cyber Defense competition happening next month in Ames. The students will spend the next two months securing their computer systems, which hackers will then try to infiltrate during the competition.
Conry said the biggest danger of an unsecure connection is the possibility of someone using it to download or view illegal material, like child pornography.
"There have been a lot of instances of people connecting to a Wi-Fi that is not theirs, viewing this stuff and then when they get in trouble the person who set up the Wi-Fi ended up getting in trouble," Conry said. "That is the No. 1 issue."
The students said there are several ways, and multiple layers, of protection options, but the easiest is simply protecting the connection with a password.
"You could Google it and do it in about 10 minutes. It's just a matter of doing it," Conry said. While the steps are often similar, each wireless router is unique and the best way to protect yours is to read the manual, he added.
Paul Gray, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Northern Iowa and the students' coach, said most people don't understand how vulnerable they are when they don't protect their accounts.
"Just because it's working doesn't mean it's secure," Gray said.
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