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Fear, Dread and Wifi

We all have watched the Arc of Fame:

1. Buzz among the cognoscenti
2. Adoration by the masses
3. Thrashing by the media
4. Blase disregard by everyone
5. Retro condescension by the idle smirky

Judging by a pair of articles in the Boston Globe today, wifi has reached stage 3 without ever making it to stage 2.

At the top of the Technology section today, Hiawatha Bray writes a fear-mongering piece about the vulnerability of home networks, with an emphasis on the dangers of wifi. Vandals are out to trash you! Thieves can’t wait to get their hands on those photos of your kid’s birthday party! The second half of the article is useful (but not detailed enough) advice on how to lock down your network.

Immediately below Bray’s article is one by Peter J. Howe, subtitled “Some analysts wonder whether WiFi craze is a bubble waiting to burst.” I know from sad experience that writers don’t write their own headlines or subheads, but in this case it’s a good summary of the article. Although (says Howe) the stats all indicate a sector taking off, Lars Godell of Forrester Research is quoted as saying that “much of the money … is being wasted” because not enough people are going to be willing to pay for the service.

Howe’s article ends by suggesting that wifi growth may be fueled by “companies supporting free access to draw publicity and foot traffic.” He does not mention neighborhood networks. When I log onto my wifi network, I have three networks to choose from. One is my next door neighbor’s and the other emanates from the house across the street.

Too bad there wasn’t an accompanying article about how to build your own neighborhood network, including how lock down your computer as you open up your network.

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15 Responses to “Fear, Dread and Wifi”

  1. It’s not at all uncommon for high-technology to go from 1 to 3… The press loves to hype The Next Big Thing, and when it doesn’t arrive the next day, the press loves to trash it.

    What you’re forgetting is: 6. gradual adoption and stability in the market.

  2. I posted some comments on SATN: See “Bashing WiFi and the Broadcast Mentality”.

  3. On the way home this evening I heard Hiawatha Bray braying more of this misinformation and garbage. I haven’t seen that kind of mindless fear-mongering drivel since Mitnick’s Art of Deception. I’ve spent a lot of years working on real network security. Live issues in the real world, and people who blather on about things they obviously don’t understand just get on my last nerve.

    That said, I think I’ll get the Bombay Sapphire…. cheers

  4. Actually, 2 million households in the US are using Wi-Fi, according to various reports. So stage 2 might have been reached!

  5. Oh dear…somebody needs a nap.

    I love and use WiFi, and am rarely happier than when stumbling across a free access point while on the road. That doesn’t change the fact that it introduces a new level of insecurity into home networking, one that users need to know about. If anything I wrote was untrue, feel free to refute it. Otherwise, I don’t see the problem here.

    In the aftermath of the Internet boom, tech journalists were criticized–often rightly–for being too eager to hype each New Thing, and failing to apply a measure of healthy skepticism. So now a lot of us are in “won’t get fooled again” mode. Which is as it should be.

  6. Oops…one other point. The reason there’s been so little “adoration by the masses” is that presently not all that many people are using WiFi. That’s one reason to question various grandiose plans to turn the nation into one big hotspot. I’d love it if these visions became reality. But until WiFi use really becomes a mass-market phenomenon, who’s going to pay for it?

  7. A Revisitation and Partial Retraction

    Since Hiawatha responded to my rather crude shot of a day or two ago,(and yes, Hiawatha, I did need a nap. It was a very bad day dealing with naive people lacking in common sense), I’m revisiting my comments here rather than clutter up David’s …

  8. Hiawatha – The point isn’t that any of your sentences were false; in fact, I wish you’d had room to go into more detail about the steps people can take to secure their computers while opening up their networks.

    The problem is that your column skips the part that explains why some people are excited about the prospect of neighborhood networks and goes straight to the raising of fears about them: “The combination of broadband Internet access and wireless networking have turned millions of home computers into targets for digital thieves and vandals.” What’s the take-away, as we say in the marketing department? Your innocent family wifi network makes you vulnerable to ogres. True. But is it really something to fear? I haven’t heard of any cases of home wifi networks being trashed, identities stolen, etc. Have you?

    It’s indeed early days for wifi and when the Globe publishes two articles on the front of the Tech section, one saying that wifi is a bubble and the other saying that it’s an open door to thieves and vandals, well, I think it’s lopsided coverage. (I’m in favor of lopsided coverage, mind you, so long as it lops onto my side…at least when it comes to columnists and bloggers.)

    As Negroponte has pointed out, the “who’s going to pay?” argument could be used to prove that people will never put in window boxes to beautify their house and street.

    I think you’re ahead of the curve in your skepticism.

  9. Fearmongering aside, the technologists are being remiss in not having the defaults be more secure than they typically are. I really like the idea of being able to borrow a little bandwidth when traveling through, but the way it is typically set up can expose your entire home network to anyone with minimal skills.

    The holy grail of wireless is “wireless mesh routing” where each routing node (typically fixed, but not a requirement) hooks up with its neighbors to route packets from anywhere, to anywhere in the mesh without every touching a wired connection. There are some serious technical issues to making this work including some tough performance issues, but experiments are underway already. A related issue is recent proposals for a much more flexible system for allocating frequencies so that low power spred spectrum digital channels can transparently share frequencies with other uses. This is another very important commons issue.

  10. Yeah, I wrote about mesh networking a few weeks back. Cool idea. But won’t it drain everybody’s batteries? And what happens when it’s 3 am and there’s nobody around to mesh with?

  11. I’d weigh back in with something more reasoned than the crude swipe I took at Hiawatha yesterday, but I already did at I trackbacked to here not wanting to clutter David’s blog space (besides, I may not want my words stored with your 77,000 email messages and scattered digitally at sea later on ). There’ve been a couple comments since here since I posted that and left work. But I do think it’s enough to note that we’re all preaching to the choir.

  12. He does not seem to me to be a free man who does not sometimes do nothing.

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