Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Securing Wifi-Based Social Networks

WHISHER, a startup out of Spain, announced its launch today. It plans on creating the first wifi-based social network, based on what sounds to me like peer-to-peer connections that share a single connection with a hot spot.

To get this right, WHISHER is going to have to be *very* focused on security - because the kind of social connections currently advertising themselves to wireless users in public places are the kind of peers you should actively avoid. Changing the mindset from "never trust" to "always trust" is going to be a challenge.

We recently published the results of several studies of airport wireless networks conducted at Atlanta Hartsfield, New York's La Guardia, and O'Hare in Chicago that show wireless networks often advertise themselves as being something other than what they are. Google "Authentium" and "wireless" and "airports" and you'll find the news stories.

Example: Yesterday, I was sitting at Legal Seafoods at Reagan National in DC, trying to find a wireless network, when a computer-to-computer network connection advertised itself to me as "Verizon Wireless". Verizon Wireless, it wasn't. But I'm not sure the lawyer sitting next to me would have caught that.

No other environment is as hard for the average consumer to navigate as wireless right now. The interfaces of home networking devices remain difficult to use and way too technical for the average user, and, if my neighborhood is anything to go by, securing these home networks remains far too tough a task for the average home user to easily implement.

Not that it's impossible - all it takes it good communication. There are a number of companies starting to play in the space of "making wifi easy". We've started working with one Texas-based company, Affinegy, and plan on incorporating their easy home network setup apps into the next generation of Authentium ESP and ESP Elements. The play? Wide distribution to our ISP subscriber base, combined with a reduction in support calls for our provider partners, combined with a great set of security tools. Ease of use meets understanding meets happy customers = reduced costs and longer customer lifetimes.

I personally think the hierarchical social networking wifi idea that WHISHER plans on implementing is very cool. If they can pull this off, and keep me secure and well-informed as to the legitimacy of potential peer device connection points when I'm scouting for connections, I'll give it a try.

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