On Being a Wireless Access Point — Incoming Messages from?

Jennifer A. Kurtz, MBA

Alien Harry Solomon (AKA French Stewart) experienced minor convulsions whenever the chip implanted in his brain started to transmit an "Incoming message from the Great Big Head" in the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. How 1990s! The March 2012 South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive Conference in Austin, TX, introduced homeless human beings as wireless access points. Encountering challenges with your wireless signal? Just dial up a human wearing a T-shirt that says, "I'm a 4G hotspot." No alien force needed.

Outrageous? Yes! These human WAPs anticipated receiving $2 per 15-minute signal negotiation (the recommended donation). How many of us would choose to become wireless access points for $8 an hour? How many of us would mindlessly opt to become transmitters for convenience?

Any device that transmits and receives data wirelessly is, by definition, a wireless access point or transceiver. Consider the number of transmitters we use. There are, of course, the usual suspects: mobile phones, laptops, US passport cards (since 2008), navigation systems. On top of that, applications for Bluetooth technology continue to multiply: athletic shoes, heart rate monitors, fitness sensors, cameras, printers, headsets, etc. As of October 29, 2012, the count for wireless networks observed and reported worldwide was 76,873,078.i

The October 2012 Gartner Security Conference in Orlando identified the "internet of things" among the “Top 10 Critical IT Trends” for the next five years. How to secure the data captured by NFC devices deserves consideration. In San Francisco, for example, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) passengers use Clipper fare cards. They are encouraged to register them, in part so that balances can be recouped if cards are lost or stolen, but traveler data, including name and destination, is collected with each card swipe -- and saved for seven years - even after the card is depleted. Purchasing with cash ensures anonymity, but is less convenient. Fare cards, on the other hand are less "safe" if one goes MIA when you consider that the information on these cards can be retrieved by anyone using the FareBot smartphone app.

Of course, it's one thing to transmit information about one's own identity or behavior. It is more concerning when we transmit information about or from others, especially if that transmission is done when the person is not aware. By essentially leaving our Internet access open, for example by not implementing security stronger than WEP on wireless routers or by leaving Bluetooth devices in a discoverable mode, we can enable irresponsible behavior by others who use our legitimate, but open, wireless subscription services. Someone pursuing illicit Internet activities can achieve anonymity by piggybacking on our signals.

  • If you're using Bluetooth in public, be aware of those around you.
  • Always use the strongest security and authentication settings available.
  • Delete any Bluetooth profiles you no longer use; they can give a hacker a backdoor.
  • Always use a strong passcode and always set your own rather than use the default setting for the device.
  • Turn the phone or laptop's visibility setting to 'undiscoverable.'
  • Never attempt to pair with a device you don't recognize. You never know who is out there or what they're trying to do.ii

Harry Solomon did not have a choice about being paired, or used, to transmit messages from - or to - others. We do!

Learn more about the online Master of Science in Information Assurance from Regis University. Call 877-820-0581 or request more information.

i Number accessed October 30, 2012 from wigle.net:  The current world population at that time was estimated to be 7,048,835,805, or about 1,800 people per reported network. Population numbers were as of 18:55 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on October 29, 2012 per the US Census Bureau. Retrieved from: http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html

ii Brian Nadel (April 15, 2009). 10 Top Bluetooth Gadgets You Can't Live Without. PCWorld. Retrieved from: http://www.pcworld.com/article/163186/10_bluetooth_gadgets_you_cant_live_without.html?page=7