Warchalking occurs when people draw symbols in areas to indicate the presence of an open Wi-Fi network. The symbols used typically say something about the access point. At its height, warchalking attracted hackers to break into the said public Wi-Fi networks and gather information about their users.
Think of warchalking as street signs that point people in the right direction.
Read More about “Warchalking”
Warchalking was born when a group of friends was inspired by hobo or homeless symbols drawn on a house’s wall or street to tell other wanderers if it’s welcoming or not. Some of the signs they used include:
Warchalking was then formalized and publicized by Matt Jones. Jones created icons and made them available in downloadable format and encouraged readers to engage in the practice. The four basic elements Jones used included:
- Pair of back-to-back semicircles: This indicates the presence of an open node or access point.
- Closed circle: This refers to a closed node.
- “W” inside a closed circle: This means the node uses a Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) password.
- Two small circles connected to a big circle with “M” inside: This tells users that the access point uses a mesh connection.
For clarity, you may want to see the actual symbols below.
In some cases, warchalkers also include other symbols to represent the password to an access point.
Is Warchalking Illegal?
Warchalking per se is not illegal. There are no laws against those who practice it, especially since, as the name suggests, the symbols are drawn with chalk and so fade over time.
Wardriving and Warchalking, What’s the Difference?
Wardriving refers to the act of driving around a community or locale in search of publicly accessible wireless networks. In a sense, we can say that warchalking can help wardrivers in that someone has already marked unprotected networks for their use.
Their main difference, however, lies in the fact warchalking requires the use of specific symbols drawn where wireless networks that anyone can access are while wardriving doesn’t. Both, however, can be abused by malicious actors for their nefarious gains (spying on Wi-Fi users and stealing data) even if they aren’t illegal per se.
The Dangers of Warchalking
Maintaining a public wireless connection may lead to remarkably high Internet access charges for an establishment because anyone, even noncustomers, can tap into and use its resources. And if a shop, for instance, uses the same network for work, employees would suffer poor connections. Also, publicly accessible networks are easy to hack. Malicious entities may sniff data transmitted over them easily.
Warchalking may not be illegal, but an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) urges establishments to take precautionary measures. The FBI warning was a result of the emergence of wardriving, where hackers would drive around neighborhoods and record and publicize the locations of open wireless networks.
Warchalking became obsolete some time in the early 2000s. The availability of modern mobile apps, such as WeFi, Wi-Fi Tracker, and NetSpot, made it easier for people to detect wireless connections in public spaces. Today, it has become a norm for malls or shops to provide public Wi-Fi access to encourage more users to patronize their business. Shop owners, restaurateurs, hotel administrators, and others should make it a point to refrain from using the same public network for their work-related functions. Users should do the same, as hackers can still be lurking around waiting for potential data theft victims.