Too Hot to Handle
The new buzz words in Moscow and St Petersburg are Wi-Fi and Hot Spot. If you already know what these two words refer to, then you can move straight to the list of Wi-Fi Hot Spots.
Wi-Fi is short for wireless fidelity, and a Hot Spot is a wireless LAN (local area network) which allows you to connect to the internet without any wires. A Hot Spot can be an apartment, an office, a cafe, anywhere in fact.
Most notebooks and portable devices are now equipped with a built-in Wi-Fi interface. If your machine is without Wi-Fi there are adapters readily available in computer shops. Adapters are produced either as cards which you insert into a computer’s PCMCIA slot or as external devices which connect via a USB port. Access to Wi-Fi networks is also possible for pocket PC’s equipped with a module which supports IEEE 802.11 (the technical term for Wi-Fi).
In the US, Wi-Fi has revolutionised the way millions of Americans go online. More than ten million homes in the US now have a Wi-Fi base station providing a wireless Internet connection, according to ABI, a technology research firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y. There were essentially none as recently as 2000, the firm said.
In Russia we have some catching up to do, but, already in Moscow more than a hundred restaurants, clubs, internet-cafes and other public places are already participating in a Yandex Wi-Fi project, and another forty hot spots will join it soon. Access to the internet is free for all customers. All you have to do is to enter a login and password and adjust the settings of your computer.
Not all Wi-Fi is free however. You will have to pay for the convenience of Wi-Fi at Moscow airports, hotels, trade centres, and some cafes and restaurants. The charge varies, and the connection can be for an hour, a day, or for as long as you are online.
Before you run out of the house in search of a free internet connection here is another phrase that you need to know; War Driving.
Unless adequately protected, a Wi-Fi network can be susceptible to access by unauthorised users. The activity of locating and exploiting security-exposed wireless LANs is called War Driving. Here is how it happens.
The Wi-Fi base station, or router, allows many computers to share a high-speed internet connection and lets users maintain that connection as they move about with laptops or other mobile devices. If you don’t take appropriate steps to protect your own computer, then the information that you have on it can be hacked into by somebody you don’t know. An unsecured Wi-Fi system is a cyber criminal’s paradise.
Experts in the US — and this is just as relevant in Moscow — say most people never turn on any of the features available in almost all Wi-Fi routers, that change the system’s default settings, conceal the connection from others and encrypt the data sent over it. Failure to secure the network in those ways can allow anyone with a Wi-Fi-enabled computer within about 150 metres to tap into the base station’s internet connection.
Sometimes this can be a harmless activity, as one of our Passport photographers can confirm: he was sitting in a Hot Spot cafe recently, reading his email, when a complete stranger walked over to him and addressed him by his name, saying “I thought it was funny too, that article you were reading.”
It might not have been so funny, however, if our photographer had been reading his bank statement. Losing your money is bad enough; but finding out who took it might be impossible. Tracking down criminal War Driving is the fastest-growing problem for law enforcement agencies in the US (and where the US goes, Russia will follow).
With an old-fashioned internet connection, the IP (Internet Protocol which identifies each and every computer connected to the internet) address can be traced back to the source, making it difficult for a cyber criminal to hide his tracks. But with Wi-Fi it can happen that, yes, you can find the base station, but you don’t know who has been bouncing into the system. People are committing all sorts of criminal activities over the internet using wireless, and it could trace back to somebody else, you perhaps.
Be aware that cafes, restaurants and other public places are the favoured targets for War Drivers. And they don’t need to be sitting at a table near you. They can be sitting in a car outside, say, on Tverskaya, with a notebook on their lap, happily reading what you are reading.
For a list of Wi-Fi Hot Spots in Moscow click here.