Cyber Sneaking - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Cyber Sneaking

Even a bedroom isn't safe from cyber sneakers. Even a bedroom isn't safe from cyber sneakers.
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Rich Van Wyk/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis, Feb. 18 - If you are among the millions of computer owners using a home wireless computer network, there is a good chance your laptop and desktop PCs, along with all the personal information stored in them, are open books to prying cyber eyes.

"There I'm in. There it is," says Jeff Woloshin as Eyewitness News drive through an affluent Carmel neighborhood. The screen on his laptop is filled with lists of home computer wireless signals.

Woloshin, a former software support person, reels them off, "One, two, three, four, five," only one or two of them are properly secured, he adds.

How easy is it to eavesdrop on that signal and break into computers seemingly safe behind deadbolt locks and home security alarms?

"Just click, click, click and you are through," says Frank Willoughby, Chief Information Security Officer of Fortified Networks Inc. And you don't have to be a computer security expert, says Willoughby.

Back in the neighborhood, Woloshin clicked away. In minutes, the home computer of Deron and Amy Scalf appeared on our computer screen.

When we showed the couple, Amy gasped, "I don't like that at all." Had their business computer been turned on,

"They would have access to a lot more business files," lamented Deron.

"Yes, that's kind of scary that is." Wireless computer network technology transmits high frequency radio signals. It allows homeowners to easily connect laptops and PCs to each other, printers and the Internet without the trouble and expense of running wires though the entire home.

That radio signal doesn't stop at the home's walls. It can be picked up 100 or more feet away. And if that signal is not properly secured, anyone with similar wireless equipment and basic computer skills has access to the homeowner's computers and Internet connection.

Jan Taylor's jaw dropped when we showed her what we could to with our computer hooked to her Internet connection. "Oh, Mary Mother to God!" Taylor, crossing herself exclaimed, "Unbelievable."

It gets even scarier. The proliferation of wireless computer networks has spawned a growing cult, preying on the unprotected. So called war drivers scour neighborhoods and business areas, hunting open computers and Internet connections. Some even post their locations on the Internet for other war drivers to see.

Their actions could be harmless, "Or something more vicious, such as creating a porn web site or using your system as a base of operations, so to speak, to attack other systems and other networks," according to Willoughby.

There is also the opportunity to steal someone's identity using names, financial data, credit card numbers and other personal information stored on personal computers.

Why aren't these wireless computer systems harder to break into? They would be, experts say, if homeowners read all the instructions, installed passwords and other security features recommended and provided by manufacturers.

Instead, most homeowners, Willoughby says, "They plug it in. It works. They're happy." Happy, but for how long?

The people whose home wireless computer systems we pried open weren't happy at all.

Part 2

Those laptop computers that take us to the Internet, collect our mail and connect us to work no matter where we go are likely broadcasting an open invitation to anyone who wants in.

With a laptop, a little know-how and help from Jeff Woloshin we found scores of home wireless computer networks unprotected. "There, I'm in."

We surfed the web using Chris Johnson's Internet connection. Johnson thinks, "that's not a good thing. It surprises me a lot."

Amy and Deron Scalf had no idea either that anyone could look inside their computer. Deron found out "You can see all the information on that" since they installed a home wireless computer network.

Deron says that when he got it home he "just pretty much like everybody else does, I am sure, just buy, it hook it up, plug it in and start using the network, that simple." But dangerous.

Millions of homeowners buying wireless networks aren't following all the instructions. They're not changing the passwords and security codes manufactures use on all their equipment.

"It becomes akin to someone leaving their keys in the car." FBI Special Agent Daniel Nielsen commands the FBI's Indianapolis Cyber Crimes Unit. "It's easier for someone to get in, turn on the ignition, go down the street and rob the bank."

Cyber thieves usually don't set off alarms. Victims don't have a clue.

Then, "Your credit cards statements come through. That's when you are going to see, that's when you are going to know. That is when you will be alerted," says Nielsen.

Eyewitness News arranged for Mike Givens of MobilTeks, a computer services company, to secure the Scalf's wireless computer network. "It is really just three steps. It should take no longer than five to ten minutes max."

For homeowners and businesses who don't do this, there is a growing number of people hunting them down. It's called "war driving," finding unprotected wi-fi, wireless, signals. War drivers even post wi-fi hot spots on the Internet along with anonymous advice on homemade, high powered antennas.

War driving isn't illegal.

Using someone's Internet connection or accessing their computers would be trespassing, a minor low-priority crime.

Nielsen says, "It is illegal. It's on the books that it is illegal. But will it be prosecuted? That's kind of iffy."

Clayton Dillard of Holly Springs, North Carolina is reportedly the first person in the country convicted of a wireless computer crime. "My intention was to inform the patients that their information was at risk. I thought they needed to know."

Entering the computers of a medical office was objectionable. Investigators say Dillard crossed the crime line by opening thousands of patients' records. He's serving 18 months in prison.

With the cyberspace of wireless largely unprotected by police and the law, computer users are left to protect themselves.

Givens spent about 15 minutes changing the factory installed passwords and security codes on the Scalf's wireless computer network, then tested the system. "You have a secure network," and with it a secure feeling.

Afterward, Deron Scalf said, "It is good to know you have a secure network and no one can get into your network with prying eyes."

Prying eyes now locked out of private lives.

For Rich Van Wyk's complete story watch Eyewitness News at 6 Wednesday and Thursday.

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