: Legality of Wardriving :

Legality of wardriving
by: dosman


    First of all, what is wardriving? This is not a bad as it sounds. It comes from the movie War Games. In that movie, Mathew Broderick uses a program on his computer to dial every phone number in an exchange. This means all 10,000 numbers (555-XXXX). His computer logs the numbers that have a computer on the other end so he can come back and investigate later. Since then, those types of programs have been known as "wardialers". Well, wardriving is similar to that, only you are driving around looking for 802.11b wireless networks.

    802.11b networks are not the only signals that can be picked up while driving around. X-10 RF video signals are also easy to find. Lots of professional hardware transmit on common X-10 frequencies too. This means lots of security cameras can be picked up with a cheap off-the-shelf receiver unit, available from Radio Shack and other places.

   Is it legal to listen in? As of this moment, absolutely yes. Anyone with a police scanner can probably tell you stories about hearing neighbors conversations from cordless phones. 802.11b and X-10 video are broadcast in the currently unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum. Anyone can transmit and receive without any licensing required by the FCC (There are restrictions on power output of transmitters though). The FCC has in the past made certain bands illegal to listen to though. I could write a diatribe on the cell phone band around 800MHz, and others have, because this did not fix the actual problem. Rather than make cell phone companies use even a mild form of scrambling or encryption, they outlawed all scanners that could pick up cell frequencies in the 800MHz range (Money fixes too many problems and generates too few solutions in this world). So, any old scanners still out there that where made before the ban are still picking up analog cell conversations. Could the FCC do this to the 2.4GHz band? Since so many products are already using it, probably not. Of course, a company with enough money could still buy the FCC off, but I sincerely don't expect to see that happen.

    Ethics. There are lines that shouldn't be crossed though, and as they say, you have to be careful as you walk down that narrow line. A small business or home owner may not even be aware of the problem if they install a wireless camera system or 802.11b network on their property. It seems like such an easy thing to understand for tech folks, if your receiver can pick up the signal so can folks sitting across the street from you. Perhaps most people really do understand the issue and choose to live with the possibility that others are listening in.

    Line crossing. It would be interesting to attempt to override a X-10 video signal of a camera with your own. "Hehe, I can't wait for them to notice a picture of their house from the outside instead of the baby monitor cam". In this scenario, you are not doing anything to the premise equipment you are listening in on. You are simply broadcasting your own video signal which happens to override the signal coming from the unsuspecting users camera. However, you are affecting the signal they are receiving. And if the signal is from a system designed for security purposes, you would probably be doing something illegal. I don't know the exact law in this area, but in my opinion it definitely crosses the line. While in it's mildest form, it is just a prank. But it could be used in more serious situations. Personally, I consider using a wireless surveillance system for security reasons pure stupidity. One, someone could tell when the premise is empty without being in the immediate area. Two, someone could override your camera's signal and destroy the video evidence in the event of a robbery or other mischief.

    My philosophy: they are bombarding you with 2.4GHz radiation, if you choose to collect it with an antenna and decode the modulation, it's your own business.

    Why do it? Well, maby I have too much time on my hands. But hey, it's fun. And it's legal.



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