A nifty tool, and some observations on network access

If you go to http://www.flightstats.com, you can create an account (free!), and, if you’re traveling by air as we were recently, you can set up a monitor on your flights that can e-mail you or even text-message your cell phone with information about your flight — on-time status, delays, etc.

As we were flying Northwest near the end of the month for the down-leg, and NWA has had a number of rather silly labor problems causing numerous cancellations toward the end of the month as pilots refused to work more than 90 hours in the month, knowing whether or not we would have a flight on the 29th was pretty important.

Oh, and a couple of other observations: If you’re dropping $100/night on a hotel room at the Detroit Metro Airport Westin, you’d think you wouldn’t have to pay for the internet service… and you’d be wrong. $9.95 for a day’s block of usage that ends if you check out of your room. The big Northwest terminal at DTW has a great wireless network, too — if you want to pay $8.95 for a single use (you can buy a subscription, which makes sense if you’re there regularly, I guess). On the other hand, Southwest Florida International Airport (which serves the Ft. Myers/Naples area) has free wireless in the terminal and concourses, although the signal strength was spotty when we were sitting at the Quizno’s having a sandwich before going through security. It was full-strength at the gate at the end of C Concourse, though.

The house we rented for the week had a nice cable modem right there, but I wasn’t about to establish a Comcast account and load a bunch of Comcast crap software on the laptop just for the week. We wound up retreating to a Starbucks nearby and paying $9.99 for a “day pass” with T-Mobile. I suppose if this is going to become a habit, I’ll have to buy a subscription, but I’m hoping it doesn’t.

Hampton Inns, which is one of our regular weapons of choice when traveling, has free access from the room and wireless in the lobby, but you have to have their code (which you receive at check-in). This has posed a problem for me with a work laptop, as it won’t connect to any outside web sites unless you first connect to the mothership’s VPN, but you can’t get past the hotel system to the VPN unless you enter the code first on a page you can’t get to unless you first log onto the VPN… Catch-22.

Oh, and people who use hotel business center PCs for anything other than checking the weather? Stupid. Anything with a password is susceptible to being grabbed by software installed by random people who view those business center PCs as fertile soil for identify theft.

And the “poor” day traders whose brokerage accounts were compromised when they accessed them from a hotel business center PC that had password-grabbers? REALLY stupid! C’mon, if you’re doing so well at day trading that you can travel at will for fun, spend $500 and buy yourself your very own laptop…

And remember, kids: “Security” and “Wireless Network” are mutually-exclusive terms. Yes, even if it’s a “secured” wireless network. All that means is you gotta know the magic number to log on. It doesn’t prevent someone with the right equipment from grabbing packets your system broadcasts in a complete sphere as much as 200 feet in diameter from your laptop. Likewise from whatever wireless router is in use. Making sense of those packets is tricky, sure, but there’s software that automates most of the scutwork, and a determined info thief will have that software. VPN software may encrypt the data between you and the VPN server, but most of us don’t have that set up for our personal systems.

If you have a home network, see if your wireless router will let you adjust its broadcast power. I have ours set so that it just barely covers our little house and the back deck. I’ve also set ours to not broadcast its name, either — so anyone trying to use it will have to know what the name is (and the name isn’t the factory-supplied name, either). Depending on what part of the house I’m in, I can pick up as many as 4 other wireless networks belonging to various neighbors, and only one of them is “secured” — the others are open and I could just as easily connect to them and use their connection instead of my own (I don’t, but I could, as could anyone else driving by).

And that’s about it for me tonight. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “A nifty tool, and some observations on network access

  1. fakefrenchie

    “the others are open and I could just as easily connect to them and use their connection instead of my own” Why would this be bad? DO they pay more if you use their connection?

    Reply
    1. autojim Post author

      Well, aside from the obvious ethical problem — it’s theft of service unless the neighbors deliberately set their network up as a public network — it’s also a security risk for my computer if I use their network. I know what the situation is on my network. I know what to expect on a true public network (no security whatsoever, so I have to have my own on my laptop). On an ostensibly private network that the owner is clearly ignorant/inept/clueless about the setup and maintenance — so much so that they disabled the automatic basic security settings that almost all routers are set to by default — I don’t know what to expect. Malware. Spyware. Password sniffers. Packet sniffers. So I just stick to my own, and set up as “secure” as a wireless setup can be: no name broadcast; name set to a non-factory value which is suitably odd as to be extremely difficult to guess; require anyone attempting to log onto it to know both the name and the security code; and turn the transmitter power down to only cover our house under most circumstances.

      Reply
      1. fakefrenchie

        Thanks for answering. I have been wondering why this was bad, other than the ethics question. DO these=>Malware. Spyware. Password sniffers. Packet sniffers.—also effect Macs?

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