I'm sure most of the geeks out there already know about "wardriving", "warchalking", and such. For the rest of you, a quick synopsis:
Both terms are descended from the hackers tool of the early modem age, known as war-dialing. You might remember this from the rather quaint anti-nuclear/computer fairytale "Wargames". It was the idea of dialing numbers at random to try and find modems that were set to automatically answer the phone, and thus grant access too all sorts of interesting systems (though the idea of NORAD having such a hole is patently ridiculous...though we ARE talking about our government).
Fast forward to the wireless age, and you have wardriving: The practice of scanning for wireless networks for whatever purpose. Warchalking is a neat idea that says "Hey, here's a deliberately open node for your use!", which is basically chalking the symbol ")(" to the side of a wall or the sidewalk.
Well, before heading up to Roni's in SF, I wondered "Gee, I wonder if I could do this with my iBook and that Lucent extended Range antenna I have buried in my junk closet?" (yes, I do. You have no IDEA what bizarre gadgets I have stashed in there. Let's just say my garage sale would be a hit with historical geeks).
Within minutes I had the whole mess slapped together and in my car with The Software, and I was off.
First thing was I was surprised at how far my own home network extended...much further than I would have thought. Second surprise was an open access point not a block further, in the middle of nowhere, in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Not so surprising is the sheer DENSITY of open points throughout Cupertino...I had the software set to speak the points as they found them. Bizarrely enough, a lot of the points were either defaults or contained enough information that I could actually pin-point exactly where they were located (street addresses? Family names? What are these people THINKING?!) And often got better reception in the street than I do in my own living room.
Right now I'm sitting on Stevens Creek Blvd, and am posting this from there, not two hours after deciding to do this. Very cool...and yet, also a little un-nerving. This is not unlike finding a car, running, with the doors wide open, in the middle of an empty parking lot. If I were un-ethical, I could easily hang a server using a dynamic DNS client off of one of these bad boys and bog down bandwidth for days.
However, I just wanted to see if it could be done. Now I plan to write an article about it, and hopefully some of these people will think to turn WEP on.