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Residential Wi-Fi Mapping Database Revealed 167

Talaria writes "An enormous database of home wifi routers and their locations has been revealed after the Internet Patrol did some digging following AOL's recent announcement of their new "Near Me" service, which allows AIM users to see which of their instant messenger buddies are geographically near them. The database, containing the unique IDs of more than 16 million wireless routers and their locations, has been compiled by AOL partner Skyhook Wireless, which claims to have mapped the majority of residences in the U.S. and Canada."
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Residential Wi-Fi Mapping Database Revealed

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  • No surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @04:06PM (#18420011)
    Who would be surprised about this? Are there still people out there who think that there's some magical way of being attached to the Net and still being anonymous? You've gotta be especially naive to think that your wireless router, broadcasting information into the air, isn't going to be picked up by somebody other than you.
  • Re:Skyhook trucks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @04:40PM (#18420633)
    That's not a Slashdot solution.

    A camera to monitor your street, and a switch that cuts power to your router while discharging a HERF weapon concealed in a lawn gnome is a Slashdot solution.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @04:50PM (#18420819)
    Wire to each room is a no brainier but wireless is also useful, I dont want a wire draped accross the couch when I am checking sports scores on my notebook and watching TV...what if I want to sit outside on the porch, or in the middle of the back yard for that matter, am I supposed to string a cable drop to the old oak tree? a drop that I may use 3 times a year...why be tethered? doing huge file transfer is one thing, but wifi is great for most every day stuff. Your post shows a sense of elitism that is the essence of what turns people off to this site.
  • Re:mod parent up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @04:52PM (#18420879) Homepage Journal

    Actual wireless makes sense if you are in an apartment or a place that you do not own. But if you own it and your house is less than 50 years old and you run wireless, then the person is either lazy or a total idiot.

    Or if you use a laptop and don't feel like being tethered to your desk.

    I have an apartment, and my desktop, TiVo, and PS2 are all hooked up by wires (that run along one wall), but I still have wireless enabled: it's for laptop/Nintendo DS use.

    I can, of course, also plug the laptop in directly via a wired connection, but then it'd be tethered to my desk. So instead I use wireless, and can use the laptop all over my apartment. Wireless is more for mobile device use than for simply avoiding having to run wires.

  • by eggboard ( 315140 ) * on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @05:45PM (#18421721) Homepage
    Here's what I wrote to the fine person who wrote the linked article, who I respect enormously, but think got it wrong in this case:

    First, and sort of a priori, Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum. The use of that spectrum means that you accept (however unknowingly, your point!) that any use treads in the public space. There are ways to reduce the signal strength of many Wi-Fi gateways if you want to penetrate further.

    Second, what they're gathering is just a number (the BSSID [], which is the unique base station identifier for networks that are set to broadcast). They do not access the network. And they can't provide any kind of exact correlation. Nor is there a way to associate BSSIDs with individuals or addresses in their system or elsewhere. (It's also not all home networks; there are millions and millions of business networks also being recorded.)

    Third, their data is their crown jewel. They have every interest in protecting it in the strongest possible ways. The information they release is a set of coordinates based on signals measured and sent via their system. So you can't really perform millions of arbitrary queries, but rather only queries mediated through their software. This limits exposure.

    So you have no specific information based on public use of public spectrum and strong needs to protect the data against unwanted access...

    Sounds fairly reasonable to me.

    If they started pairing individual addresses with BSSIDs, and sold that to Wi-Fi makers and others who would then perform direct mailings to users to get them to switch brands or add security -- that would be creepy.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @06:59PM (#18422619) Journal
    Every access point has a hardware address that never changes (unless the owner is a firmware-flashing geek) and is always broadcast, even if you turn off SSID broadcasts. If you have a powered-on wireless access point and they've scanned your area, your AP is in the database.

    Sounds like a great way to find stolen Access Points, WiFi cards, laptops with built-in WiFi, and other such gear. B-)

    How many petty thieves are going to re-flash the gear to change the MAC address? (And if they do it will still show up as MAC addresses appearing multiply in the maps and/or addresses outside the allocated ranges.)

    (Our company had some APs stolen a while back. The IT guys did a little wardriving but didn't find them. We've upgraded since so it probably won't matter to us. But it could be really useful for people who had stuff stolen more recently.)
  • by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @08:27PM (#18423405) Homepage
    I have a pottery kiln/studio in the middle of field. A neighbor about 400' away or more lets me uses his broadband connection. Trenching a line that far -- through blackberries and fences -- would be a nightmare. Instead, I picked up two wireless routers, put on DDwrt so I could adjust power output (80mw seems to work just fine), and got a couple cheapo antennas (they are about 2.5" square -- sort of directional). The whole setup was under $200, and the biggest bonus, I didn't have to dig a trench. I've done enough digging in my life. The connection has been really solid.

    Of course, if I had to go through brick, that would be a different story. The radio just won't penetrate that. In order to improve my signal for example, the antennas on the kiln side are placed outside the wall, the router at the neighbor's has the antenna in a window, so the only thing separating them is glass, air, snow, fog, and rain -- none of which seem to make an appreciable difference. I would think that a few layers of brick though, would make the system fail.

    Anyway, in the right circumstances, wireless is great and wired is a pain. And vice versa of course.
  • by Nukenbar2 ( 591848 ) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @10:01AM (#18428195)
    um, not even close. By simple click the link you provided, you can see in the summery that he was attempting to steal customer credit card information from that network.

    A little different from checking your e-mail and worth some jail time.

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan