Security in the Plan

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-06-23 Print this article Print

The business plan makes very few references to the security of the network, and only two are worth repeating. The short section on security (page 28) it lists various generic issues of securing wireless networks, such as the ability to provide encryption and authentication, without actually saying that these capabilities will be deployed.

It then notes that "...the more secure the network is, the more complicated the provisioning process can become. Open access in parks and public spaces should limit the provisioning requirement to confirmation of an acceptable use policy and disclaimer."
This sounds like a plan for no security at all to me. You can rest assured that these public access points will become the perfect place from which to conduct attacks, send spam and similar unsavory activities.

Another point in the plan (page 47) notes other municipal wireless plans and their "Best Practices." Exactly one of them, Benton County, Washington, is noted for security. Why? Benton County turns out to be interesting because its a private endeavor by Maverick Wireless Corporation. Theres no real government involvement, although Maverick did build its network using underutilized fiber networks belonging to rural public utility districts. I dont see why Philadelphia considers Maverick a model for security, but I suspect that its easier to provide good security when your customers are paying market rates.

Do you like to complain about your Internet service provider? Most people do, but imagine being able to call your city councilmember to complain about the service. You know this sort of thing is going to happen in a municipal Wi-Fi network, especially if the discounted service isnt everything the full-price services are.

If there really is a problem with Internet access, then there is a better way to deal with it than to put the government in the business of building Internet service: vouchers. In Philadelphia, broadband in the form of cable or DSL is available everywhere. If its too expensive for poor people, subsidize them. Personally I think this, too, is a luxury and the money is better spent on things like books and schools and subways, but its a much more direct response to the problem than to build a whole network.

Also, insecure ISPs are the bane of the Internet, imposing huge costs on other users as well as their own. Its hard to believe that an ISP operating at low cost will be able to provide support needed by what will have to be a technically unsophisticated user base. Even if you believe everything they say about the network, its still a train wreck in the making.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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