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Unsecured Wi-Fi networks: Hiding place for online criminals

Unsecured Wi-Fi networks: Hiding place for online criminals

Officials with the Internet Crimes Against Children task force are concerned that consumers and businesses are unaware they're contributing to the problem.

Though it's used by millions of law-abiding Internet surfers, looks like Wi-Fi also is offering safe haven to criminals who like the anonymity the wireless technology offers.

According to a report in this week's Washington Post, the 46,000 public access Wi-Fi points scattered across the U.S. offer a new vehicle for criminals to carry out their evil business. Law enforcement authorities, who so far have been focusing their investigations primarily on child pornography and other exploitation of children, say they are growing concerned that the anonymous use of unsecured wireless networks will grow.

Their finding? People with mischief on their minds simply log on to unsecured public Wi-Fi access sites or, in some reported cases, piggyback onto private unsecured networks.

"We're not sure yet how to combat that," law enforcement agent Kevin West in North Carolina told the Post. "Free wireless spots are everywhere and it makes it easy for people ... to sit there and do their nefarious acts. The fear is that if we talk about it, people will learn about it and say, 'I can go to a parking lot, and no one will catch me.' But we need to talk about it so that we can figure out how to solve it."

More than 45 multi-jurisdictional task forces from the Internet Crimes Against Children task force carry out sting operations designed to catch sex offenders who target children. The operation is multi-jurisdictional because the perpetrators often work across municipal and state lines. But recently the task forces have been running into situations in which they are about to pounce on a child molester only to find the suspect was hiding behind an unsecured wireless network.

"Technology just makes the park no longer the only place where the pervert goes," said West.

Law enforcement officers continue to use software and other tracking devices to hunt pederasts and other offenders by tracing their IP addresses; that tactic, of course, can't work with sex offenders hiding behind a wireless network.

One solution to the growing problem, law enforcement authorities say, is for networks to be secured. A two-part article published this month in Network Systems Designline on how to secure your home wireless network serves up several suggestions.


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