Originally published in The Clarion | May 09, 2012
It may sound like a skipping record (or a scratched CD for the younger ones out there), but Internet and Web security is a subject of paramount importance in today’s society. While many businesses recognize the importance of their corporate data and take appropriate measures to help ensure their data is protected, it would be fair to say that the average home user does not. With wireless routing devices so easily accessible and inexpensive, any Average Joe can go to his favorite big box store and pick one up, carry it home and have it operational in no time. Without proper configuration, our buddy Average Joe has just opened himself up as a target for the bad guys out there. His unprotected wireless point has not only made available a free connection for the bad guys to commit an untold number of online crimes, but he has also potentially opened up his own wirelessly-connected devices and the data on each of them to the world (or at least to those in his neighborhood).
I have had an eye on a story for a few years now that, from the beginning, really concerned me. While a fan of their products and services, Google, Inc. engaged in some questionable-at-best data collection measures that essentially affects each and every one of us. One of my favorite service offerings from Google is their Street View feature in Google Maps. If you are unfamiliar, along with being able to type in a street address and seeing both mapping and overhead satellite imagery of an address, Google’s Street View feature allows you to literally roam the streets of most any location in the United States and other countries around the globe. With a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, I can drop in to the street in front of my house and see all sorts of things – the vehicles in the driveway, the flowers and plants in the flowerbed and in some cases my neighbor as she was taking a walk around the block. Google obtained this imagery by literally driving around the streets in a vehicle that was equipped with a camera on top, capturing images from all angles as it cruised the roads.
As it turns out, Google wasn’t only taking pictures as it rode around – they were also collecting wireless network data. According to documents filed by the Federal Communications Commission, Google captured and documented each and every ‘open’ wireless network in the country as it cruised the streets – but they didn’t stop there. In many instances (again, according to the FCC), Google not only obtained data telling that the open network existed, but also collected and preserved data on these networks including eMail messages, usernames and passwords, browser cookie data and more. What they plan to do with this data is unknown, but consider yourself warned – open wireless networks should be avoided at all costs.