- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

They are digital-age Magellans searching for something they can't see. They are techies engaged in a new hobby: war driving.
War drivers climb into cars armed with laptops, antennas and global positioning units. The devices will help war drivers sniff out wireless networks that let people hop online when they are on the move and away from their desktop computers.
"It's a very geeky pastime," said Jason Kaczor, 29, a Canadian who organized the WorldWide War-Drive, a grass-roots effort to count the number of wireless networks in North America.
War driving took root with the development of WiFi wireless fidelity an inexpensive, short-range technology that has been proliferating for 18 months.
WiFi lets several computers share a single high-speed Internet connection. Consumers are installing wireless networks in homes and apartment buildings. Businesses, colleges and universities are using them so employees and students can log on to the Internet or tap into computer networks remotely with laptops or personal digital assistants. The University of Georgia will plug in a wireless network tomorrow in a 24-square-block area of Athens to give people wireless access.
No definitive database of all the nation's wireless networks exists, so war drivers are out and about after work and on weekends. Some want to map the fast-growing wireless universe, some want to tap into the networks for free access to the Web.
Don Bailey, a computer security engineer, has organized NoVa Wireless, a group of WiFi enthusiasts in Northern Virginia trying to create a vast wireless network available to the public.
"I envision walking around with a PDA and there won't be a single place where I can't get free [Internet] access," he said.
Mr. Bailey, 28, climbs into his silver pickup. A laptop manned by his friend and neighbor Keith Mitchell runs software to find wireless networks. They sniff out 302 networks in and around Herndon in an hour. Mr. Bailey went on his first war drive about 18 months ago. The growth of WiFi since then has been enormous, indicating that consumers and companies are embracing a new way to network computers.
"At first there was one other person in my neighborhood with a wireless network and me. Now I can turn on the software in my driveway and pick up 12 [networks] without moving." he said. "People are experimenting with new technology."
Wireless networks can cost as little as $200 to build. The network cards that devices need to capture WiFi signals can cost as little as $60. Because the networks are cheap, more people like Mr. Bailey have them in their homes. Technology research firm International Data Corp. estimates that 4.2 million homes will have wireless networks by 2004, up from 835,000 homes last year.
But sharing one's Internet connection with others by making it available through a wireless network is akin to splicing a cable provider's connection to a home to share service with someone who isn't a subscriber, said Dan Hassett, a lawyer in the Internet and electronic-commerce practice at the D.C. law firm Wiley, Rein and Fielding LLP.
Some Internet providers consider shared connections violations of service agreements.
They could overcome the sharing phenomenon by charging customers for how much they use the network.
Not all companies want people piggybacking on their wireless connections for free Internet access, said Nate King, 29, a computer security consultant at Predictive Systems Inc.
"Obviously getting onto a company's network is illegal," said Mr. King, who works in the New York company's Herndon office.
Other companies are marketing WiFi access. Starbucks stores began selling wireless access in 1,200 of its coffee shops in August.
Access to the networks is available because WiFi uses a transmitter to send a signal to computers within a radius of about 300 feet. More machines are designed to work with WiFi. Microsoft Corp. has integrated WiFi into Windows XP, the latest version of its operating system.
Security professionals still question the motives of war drivers. Part of their concern is that few companies use encryption, which makes networks harder to hack.
War drivers say they are providing an important service by raising awareness about shoddy corporate computer security.

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