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Take Time to Protect Your Wireless Computer Network, Experts Advise

BOONE—You may be giving your home Internet service away.

If you are among the growing number of people installing a wireless networking kit at home or at work, you might be paying for your next door neighbor to surf the Web.

Wireless network kits are like little radio transmitters, sending a signal about 100 feet throughout your house. If you live in an apartment, condominium complex or densely populated neighborhood, you may be broadcasting the signal across the hall, yard or street into the building next door.

All it takes to pick up that signal and access the Internet is a wireless card about the size of a credit card that is used with a laptop computer.

It’s illegal to “airjack,” the term used to describe using someone’s Internet connection through an open wireless network, but approximately 60 percent of wireless networks in the United States are unprotected and available to anyone with the appropriate equipment.

The same holds true for wireless networks detected on and around the Appalachian State University campus in Boone.

Students in a top-level senior seminar computer science classes taught by Dr. Jay Fenwick and Dr. Rahman Tashakkori used laptop computers equipped with wireless cards to search for wireless networks as part of a class project. But before they began the project, the students discussed the legality and ethics of searching for open computer networks and airjacking with university attorney David Larry.

The students then developed a code of conduct regarding how they would conduct the survey and maintain the privacy of any network discovered.

Working in two-student teams, they found almost 800 wireless networks, 27 percent were protected or encrypted systems while 61 percent were “open” or available for anyone to use with a wireless network card attached to their computer. The remaining 12 percent could not be classified.

Senior computer science majors Steven Heffner of Hickory and Andrew Todd of Gastonia were among the students who participated in the project. “We found one wireless network in a car parked in a campus parking lot,” Heffner said. “The network was being broadcast through a satellite phone.” Heffner uses a wireless network in his apartment, but turns it off when it’s not in use which is one of the easiest ways to avoid unauthorized use of his Internet service.