Driveby Hacking on the Go

War Drivers, otherwise known as Driveby Hackers, may be stealing services from your LAN. Administrators, security pros, and students have been checking out just how easy it is to gain access to Wireless LANs using little more than a laptop, wireless card, and a sniffer. Are you at risk?

By Jacqueline Emigh | Posted Jan 3, 2002
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How did Frank Keeney, a California-based security consultant and war driving convert, spend his recent vacation? With his wife and kids along for the ride, Keeney used a laptop, rigged up in the back of his SUV, to map access points to home and corporate wireless LANs all the way from Pasadena to San Francisco.

Keeney, of course, is scarcely the only war driver -- aka "driveby hacker" -- around. "I only got into war driving, in fact, after reading about it on the Web," Keeney says. College students, stepping out for a new sort of joy ride, are toting laptops outfitted with GPS units, wireless cards, and wireless sniffer software such as NetStumbler or Airsnort, so they can tap into wireless access points around their neighborhoods. War driving is also a method that network managers can use to uncover the burgeoning crops of "rogue" or unauthorized wireless LANs now springing up on corporate grounds.

"A lot of the war driving we hear about is being done by IT consultants, to prove the security threats posed by wireless LANs," maintains Sarah Kim, an analyst for the Yankee Group. Kim doesn't dispute, however, that these threats are real. "Now, you can purchase wireless access points and cards at a lot of retail stores. Many people still don't know how to set them up correctly, though."

Meanwhile, postings in news groups and other forums indicate that war driving is catching on as a hobby, too. In the Stumbling Setups Forum on NetStumbler's Web site, a new initiate to driveby hacking asks for antennae advice.

"My question is this," he writes. "My Toughbook has a full magnesium alloy shell, and the PC card antenna sits, obviously, right next to it. Will this affect my receive performance? I haven't added an external antenna yet. My pigtails are in the mail."

In an Internet forum on ISP-Wireless, a member called "MB" acknowledges, "Being a student, war driving is something we do when we're not partying; we used to drive around and download all night long into our van."

During Keeney's war driving expedition, he mapped access points along the I-5 and 100 freeways in southern California, meanwhile intentionally avoiding any network intrusions.

"Part of my reason for doing this during (the) vacation was to find out if there were many access points in the more rural areas. Well, there are plenty. While driving north on I-5 there were many large warehouse facilities, (with) many access points," according to Keeney.

"The Silicon Valley area has been mapped (by other war drivers) many, many times. There is little I can add to what has already been said about the state of 802.11b in this area.. Nearly every major company has (at least one) access point."

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