You Found A HotSpot — But Can You Connect?

Recently, I spent an afternoon shopping with my wife at the Mall. For me, there are only a couple of stores that I enjoy going into, as for the others, I usually wait outside the store and “people watch” or play a game or two on my iPAQ. Sometimes I would enable WiFi and if I got a signal, I would try to connect but all too often I was unable to connect. No more!!

Now, a press of a button and in seconds I can tell if there is an OPEN connection. I was able to find several “open connections” that enabled me to connect…very cool!! Of course, there is a responsibility to make sure that the OPEN connections are OPEN for the general public and not there because someone was negligent in not securing their connection.

There is an added advantage with this device in that you can check your own signal at home to determine how far your WiFi signal travels…important if you want to know just who has the ability to see your connection.

It should be noted that “Open” means that the network is not encrypted (that is, using WEP or WPA). “Open” means that you can connect with the access point, but not necessarily get an Internet connection. If you see an “Open” network with a commercial-looking SSID (like WAYPORT), most likely you will be able to connect to the access point, but you will have to sign in before you can actually use the network.

Any Wi-Fi certified access point is capable of encrypting Wi-Fi signals using the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard. A WEP-encrypted network requires that a user input an encryption key before the network can be accessed. The HotSpotter displays “WEP” when a given network is encrypted, and “OPEN” when the network is not encrypted.

People use WEP to prohibit roaming Wi-Fi users from accessing their network. If WEP has been enabled, they are sending you a message that their network is not for use by unauthorized users.

Interestingly enough, as I have been testing this device, I have found that there are a significant number of APs out there that do NOT have encryption enabled and they are using the default name of the access point. If you were to set up your network without installing some sort of encryption, someone within range of your network could see your connection as “Open”, and then connect to the Internet through your open connection.

You can use the HotSpotter to verify that your home or office network is properly secured, or even detect “rogue” access points. You may wish to scan your office, you may well find some unexpected access points and you may find that they are NOT encrypted.

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