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The term wardriving was based on the term wardialing, and neither has anything to do with war. Wardialing is an outdated practice popularized by the movie War Games, in which one dialed random phone numbers to try to find an answer modem. Wardriving refers to the practice of navigating an area while seeking unprotected Wireless LAN (WLAN), also called 802.11, networks. Peter Shipley developed what is known as the current version of wardriving in April 2001, being the first to use software and GPS location data in his wardriving efforts.
There are all kinds of wardrivers. Some wardrivers adhere to a code of ethics and even go to lengths to make sure they do not unintentionally connect with an open, unsecured network. Others may not even use sophisticated software, but may simply park or stop on a neighborhood street and see if any unsecured networks pop up on their wireless connection listing, with the intent of hijacking them. Still others may be seeking to break into devices on the network, either to steal information or to implant malware.
Wardriving provides direct data about networks and Internet usage. It can be done from a vehicle, on foot, on a bicycle, or in an airplane. It is generally considered that researching networks is not illegal, and a special agent of the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in the United States has said that it may not be a criminal violation if the network is merely noted. If, however, the network is accessed, there may be a variety of criminal violations, depending on what exactly is done. These may range form theft of services—simply accessing the network and using it for one’s own purposes—to misuse of computing resources, interception of communications, but also violation of Theft of Trade Secrets, and the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Statute.
Since a network owner cannot know whether a someone wardriving and finding an unsecured network will merely log it, steal services, or try to break into the devices connected to it, both the FBI and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) recommend securing one’s wireless network. In order to do this, it is prudent to take steps such as using encryption, with WPA (WiFi Protected Access) being recommended over WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy); using a firewall, as well as anti-virus software and anti-spyware; altering the default router identification and the preset administrator’s password; and specifying the devices allowed to access one’s wireless network. It is also recommended that one shut down one’s wireless network when it will not be used for a time. In some countries, the responsibility for breaking into a wireless network can be shared between the wardriver and the network owner. In Germany, people who do not password protect their wireless networks can be fined as much as 100 Euros.