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With expanded open Wi-Fi, are ISPs offering convenience or aiding criminals?

News roundup: Open Wi-Fi allegedly aided a fugitive in evading authorities, highlighting Wi-Fi hotspot risks as ISPs including Comcast turn residential gateways into hotspots. Plus: Google's nogotofail tool; messaging apps fail EFF security review; new malware targets iOS.

One of the FBI's 10 most-wanted criminals evaded authorities for seven weeks -- thanks in part to Internet access gained via Wi-Fi hotspots that weren't password protected.

On Sept. 12, Eric Frein allegedly murdered Corporal Bryon K. Dickson II, a Pennsylvania state trooper. Frein is also charged with the attempted murder of Alex Douglass, another state trooper. Frein fled following his alleged actions, and because he was the sole suspect in the case, police dispatched as many as 1,000 officers to find him. After 48 days, the suspected cop-killer was apprehended Oct. 30 in an unused airport hangar. Among the more than 100 items retrieved from the scene were a laptop and two USB drives.

According to an affidavit, Frein admitted to investigators that he used the laptop to connect to the Internet whenever he found Wi-Fi connections that were not secured with passwords. This Internet access could have easily extended the length of the manhunt and helped the alleged perpetrator stay one step ahead of the police, especially if he used the Web listen to Monroe County police scanners and follow the investigation, as authorities believe.

While many of the security risks involving open Wi-Fi are readily understood, these risks are mainly seen as a threat to those connecting to insecure Wi-Fi hotspots. Few realize offering or maintaining an open Wi-Fi network can not only lead to the interception of sensitive information and identity theft, but now also opens up new questions about criminal liability if that connection aides a fugitive in his or her escape from the law.

The news of Frein's open Wi-Fi assistance comes on the heels of Comcast Corp.'s announcement that it has begun the process of giving some of its residential Xfinity customers an additional public SSID, using home gateways to give customers' guests Wi-Fi access without divulging the customers' WEP keys.

While Comcast does provide its subscribers the ability to disable the feature, the company said less than 1% of customers with the feature have done so.

Comcast also believes its offering will help improve security and Wi-Fi access, but it remains to be seen whether the move will inadvertently expose itself and its customers to legal risks.

In other news

  • Following the recent slew of SSL vulnerabilities -- including POODLE, Heartbleed and gotofail -- Google unveiled a new open source tool Tuesday to help developers and security researchers identify common SSL certification verification issues, HTTPS and SSL/TLS library bugs, SSL and STARTTLS stripping issues, and cleartext issues. The tool can be deployed as a router, VPN server or proxy, and it works on Android, iOS, Linux, Windows, Chrome OS, OSX -- pretty much any device used to connect to the Internet.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) published the results of the first phase of its new campaign for secure and usable crypto this week. In its "Secure Messaging Scorecard," the EFF divulged how 39 messaging products fared when rated on security best practices such as, "Is your communication encrypted in transit?" and, "Is the code open to independent review?" Only six tools -- including Cryptocat and Silent Text -- passed each category, and two tools -- Mxit and QQ -- failed all categories. Of the most popular tools, AOL Instant Messenger passed one category, Google Hangouts, Skype and Snapchat passed two each, and Apple iMessage passed five. The EFF hopes it scorecard will "serve as a race-to-the-top, spurring innovation around strong crypto for digital communications."
  • Two new Apple-targeting malware were reported this week, one of which is being used in the wild. Swedish white-hat hacker Emil Kvarnhammar of security firm TrueSec, who dubbed the first flaw "Rootpipe," will not divulge the details of the privilege-escalation vulnerability until Apple has released its patch, which will reportedly occur in January. Kvarnhammar did say Rootpipe affects the newest OS X, 10.10, as well as 10.8 and 10.9, and he recommends not using a user account with the admin rights on iOS devices unless necessary. The second piece of malware, WireLurker, targets both OS and iOS systems and was first discovered in June. Researchers at Palo Alto Networks Inc. published the details of the malware Wednesday, which is the only current known example of iOS malware that targets non-jailbroken iOS devices. WireLurker, according to Palo Alto researchers, "monitors any iOS device connected via USB with an infected OS X computer and installs downloaded third-party applications or automatically generated malicious applications onto the device, regardless of whether it is jailbroken." To mitigate the risk, Palo Alto researchers suggest routing mobile traffic through a mobile security threat prevention application, avoiding connecting with untrusted computers, and not downloading third-party apps from untrusted sources. Palo Alto also released a detector to help users detect WireLurker malware on their devices.

Next Steps

Learn more about the issues with Wi-Fi hotspots and guest wireless networks

Read SearchSecurity's intro to wireless security and gain insight

Get help improving SSL/TLS security, managing messaging safety and defending against iOS malware

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