EFF Backs Hacking Effort to Create Private, Open Wireless Routers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation creates a project to make a network of open, but secure, wireless routers that allow home users and businesses to share a portion of their bandwidth with anyone.

open wireless router

The Electronic Frontier Foundation announced on July 20 a programming effort to create a secure, private way for people to share their wireless routers, allowing others to use their bandwidth without compromising their network security.

The project, dubbed the Open Wireless Router, aims to give home users and businesses the ability to assign a portion of their available bandwidth to be used by passersby. While some routers can create similar guest networks, consumer-grade equipment does not do a good job of prioritizing bandwidth, of keeping out would-be attackers, nor stopping eavesdropping, Ranga Krishman, EFF technology fellow, told eWEEK.

"There are people who want to open a channel in their router and allow anonymous guests access in their business or home, but the routers available today—they do not do such a great job of doing that," he said, adding that easier-to-use software can help get non-technical people to deploy the networks.

In October 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a small group of other organizations announced the Open Wireless coalition, focusing on protecting the availability of free and open wireless networks. Yet, easy-to-deploy hardware and software that reliably guard the privacy and security of the networks have been hard to find.

Wireless networking software needs to allow everyone to have the ability to communicate over an encrypted network, according to the Open Wireless Movement's Website. The EFF's release of its early version of firmware will allow early adopters to submit feedback on the technology, Krishman said.

The Open Wireless movement pits digital-rights activists against a variety of groups—such as law enforcement, copyright holders and businesses that profile online users—who are interested in minimizing anonymous communications.

On one hand, allowing greater use of open routers will enhance privacy, as there will be no way to prove the identity of the user at a specific Internet address. Under current U.S. rules, every business and home user offering an open wireless router would essentially become an Internet service provider, according to an analysis by the EFF.

However, the danger is that an anonymity-preserving infrastructure will allow criminals to stymie law enforcement agents' efforts to track them. Open mail servers and domain name servers that allow anyone to connect have both been used as part of attacks in the past.

Yet the Open Wireless Movement argues that the benefits of having free and private communications everywhere outweighs the drawbacks of a potential increase in criminal activity.

"As we saw with the Internet itself, innovation grows as barriers to entry shrink, especially eliminating the need to beg permission from established companies," the group states on its Web page. "Open wireless will allow innovators to imagine what they can do with always-on, cheap connectivity regardless of where a person is physically."

The current implementation of the Open Wireless router software only implements some of the necessary functionality, EFF's Krishman said. Currently, the software only runs on the Netgear WNDR3800 router.

"Some technical problems still need to be solved, but I think we have taken a good step forward," he said.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...