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"Warchalking is the practice of marking a series of symbols on sidewalks and walls to indicate nearby wireless access. That way, other computer users can pop open their laptops and connect to the Internet wirelessly. It was inspired by the practice of hobos during the Great Depression to use chalk marks to indicate which homes were friendly."

Reminds me of IBM's "Peace, Love and Linux" campaign, where they spraypainted symbols on the sidewalks of San Francisco.  That got them a $100,000US fine.

What do you think about this practice?  Is it legal?  A waste of time?

Joe Paradise
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

That reminds me...I need to tighten down my wireless LAN at the house...

Mark Hoffman
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Except for the "chalking" part - that is you are defacing public or private property with graffiti, I would guess that the wireless snooping is perfectly legal.  802.11 operates in unlicensed spectrum.  Therefore, no one has an intrinsic right of privacy nor prefered use.

Check out

I ran this against my wireless lan at home, to see how long it would take for a potential driveway hacker to crack my keys.  Well, since I don't typically generate enough traffic - even when someone is playing an online game - it looks as though (extracting from my single night of data) that it would take more than several days to crack my home WEP.

Now, if you're a company, well your traffic rate is much higher.  Driving around the greater Seattle area yeilds 802.11 beacons galore.  About 3 per mile, just driving around at normal speeds with no special antenna - just a Aironet 350 card on a laptop.  I read where people go up on hilltops with antennae and point in the general direction of "down" and can DHCP at will.  They don't even know whose network they're on, its a random shot.

Nat Ersoz
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Here's an idea:

  Public Website or napster-like service that lists wireless LANS and distance.  (It would be pretty easy to tie this into Mapquest to get directions to the nearest W-Lan and figure out which are the closest.)

  It could even run over gnutella.


  Sounds like a business idea to me, but I fear it's much too much like napster - it's hard to make money by giving stuff away.  Plus, how many of those wireless networks actually _want_ roving sign-on freeloaders? :-)


Matt H.
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

use 128 bit WEP @ home. no encryption @ school.

Prakash S
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

I haven't checked with any of m'learned chums, but I suspect that it's not legal in this country (UK).

Recent legislation, the "Computer Misuse Act" springs to mind. Inciting someone to break the law is also probably frowned upon, which would cover the act of chalking, if not already covered by defacement laws.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Nat, when you said "you are defacing public or private property with graffiti", I wonder if the fact that it is water soluble nontoxic calcium carbonate (chalk) would matter. Would you favor prison sentences for children playing hopscotch, in other words, and if not how would you distinguish between the two.

Ed the Millwright
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

"Would you favor prison sentences for children playing hopscotch"

Someone hasn't had their nap.

Mark Hoffman
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

I wasn't advocating anything.  I was merely suggesting that the graffiti part might me the only part that is illeagal.  Using water solluble chalk would not be useful, as it would wash away, so I would guess that paint is more common.  However, back in the midwest, we cyclists used to paint "Dan Henrys" (which is a little notation used to mark bicycle routes), and never worried about it.  It seems much less common out here, and I was told that if you're caught painting on the streets, you'll be fined.

Anyhow, if someone does get fined for painting on the streets, just tell 'em that Ed said it was groovey with him.  It'll be fine...

Nat Ersoz
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Nat my man, I did not realize they were using paints. I guess the term 'chalk' threw me there. Yeah I'm with you on this - if someone is out there PAINTING the sidewalks then that is grafitti/defacement and illegal. Since I thought it was chalk, I thought pretty wild to be talking about making sidewalk chalk drawings illegal as if that was common knowledge, which led me to the obvious hopscotch example.

Ed the Millwright
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

It's supposed to wash away - that way the symbols vanish before they get outdated.

Admittedly, it therefore works best in California... in the UK the symbols would be washed off before the first packet had been ACKed.

Katie Lucas
Thursday, March 13, 2003

Matt H:  Here's a map of people who do want roving sign-on freeloaders, at least here in the Portland, Oregon area:

Of course, this only lists nodes which have been *deliberately* set up to be public, which is a little bit off-topic.  (=

Sam Gray
Thursday, March 13, 2003

This is old news.  When the site went up last year, it hit Slashdot, then the mainstream media (e.g. the Wall St. Journal). Lots of coverage. 

My gut feel is this is more a satirical web site than a real movement.  Despite the fact that I live and work in the high-tech mecca of Silicon Valley, I've never seen such a mark.  Whether or not warchalking qualifies as graffiti doesn't even come close to making my top ten list of ethical dilemmas.

The Voice of Rationality
Friday, March 14, 2003

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