Watch the Skies, Because They May be Watching You

If you ever go to a popular park or beach on a nice day, you've probably seen someone playing with a remote-controlled flying toy; perhaps a model airplane or helocopter. It's probably harmless fun, but it just might be sniffing out WiFi networks to attack.

A Tech Buzz Examiner article describes a proof-of-concept project by security expert Sven Dietrich. It used a toy helicopter to find and access unsecured WiFi networks. Had the toy been in the hands of a cyberthug instead of a responsible researcher, it could have logged onto these networks, found useful (and private) information on them, and perhaps infected connected computers.

Dietrich clearly thinks he's found something potentially dangerous. After all, he named the research project SkyNET, after the world-conquering computer system from the “Terminator” movies. The flying machine is equipped with a small Linux computer, GPS, and two WiFi cards (but no Austrian-accented cyborgs). One card lets someone control everything remotely from an iPhone or Android phone; the other looks for unprotected networks to break into.

It doesn't take a flying toy to break into a WiFi network. A neighbor can break into yours, and so can a stranger sitting in a parked car in front of your home. But a remote-controlled flying device can cover a lot of ground and doesn't look suspicious. At least, it didn't look suspicious to people who haven't read about Dietrich's work.

The first line of protection, of course, is to secure your WiFi network. Check your router's menus or manual to find out how to add password-protected WPA encryption. Use a long and complex password; you'll only have to enter it once for each device accessing your wireless network.

But even then, you'll still be vulnerable in cafes, libraries, and other public networks. Luckily, Trend Micro's Titanium Maximum Protection can authenticate public WiFi networks to help keep you safe.

Subscribe to the Security Watch Newsletter