Amtrak began providing free Wi-Fi internet access aboard all 20 of its Acela Express trains in March. Launched on a trial basis, AmtrakConnect, as the wireless internet service is called, emerged as a huge success at the end of the three-month trial run, prompting the passenger railroad company to establish the service as a permanent fixture on Acela trains.
Acela trains seem to be better suited to onboard Wi-Fi compared to other Amtrek trains. This is down to the fact that they service an area with plenty of cell phone towers and are the only trains in Amtrek's fleet to feature a fixed number of passenger cars.
Last week, Google enraged German authorities by disregarding a deadline for submitting unauthorized Wi-Fi data it had amassed while collecting images for its Street View service. The company excused itself by saying that there were possible legal ramifications of such a handover that it needed to review, forcing the Hamburg data protection supervisor Johannes Caspar to hint at a criminal investigation against it.
“We screwed up. Let’s be very clear about that,” Mr Schmidt told the Financial Times. “If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defence for it not happening again.” According to Schmidt, disciplinary action is currently underway against the software engineer who wrote the meddlesome code.
Even a company of a pleasant disposition like Google can become a touch nettlesome when its rivals are busy playing a high-stakes game of musical chairs, where the winner gets to be the world's leading tech company – Apple snatched the honor from Microsoft on Wednesday. Probably feeling left out and dejected, the company even missed a key deadline yesterday. The German authorities had asked it to hand over the unauthorized Wi-Fi data it had collected during an image-collection campaign for its Street View service. But the internet giant let the deadline pass.
It was kind enough to offer a clarification, though: “As granting access to payload data creates legal challenges in Germany, which we need to review, we are continuing to discuss the appropriate legal and logistical process for making the data available.” This excuse appears untenable given the fact that Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg data protection supervisor, claims to have been assured by the state prosecutor, Lutz von Selle, that the requested data will not be used to compound Google's legal problems.
However, Google's failure to comply with the request has actually compounded its problems, as it has given rise to a criminal investigation against it. The company also enraged regulators in Hong Kong by missing a Monday deadline for furnishing similar data collected in that neck of the woods.
The ruckus began when Google fessed up to “inadvertently” collecting 600 gigabytes of “fragmentary data” from open Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, and offered to destroy the data instead of making it available for scrutiny. Although data protection watchdogs in Australia, Ireland and Denmark gave the nod for the data to be destroyed, most countries have requested that it be preserved for the sake of possible legal action in the matter.
Virtualization and enterprise networking specialist Meru announced plans to add new features to its enterprise Wi-Fi diagnostics, monitoring, and security software. The updated applications run on the Meru Service Appliance, a standalone server that runs Meru's E(z)RF Network Manager and other applications.
"Wireless networking has infused virtually all aspects of the enterprise, as users from the remote office to the manufacturing floor have come to expect predictable yet untethered access to data, video and other applications services from their device of choice," said Ram Appalaraju, senior vice president of marketing at Meru. "We believe these expectations have placed considerable pressure on IT to create a networking environment that will be flexible and reliable, yet operationally efficient. With these new network management applications integrated into the Meru Service Assurance Platform and powered by our underlying Virtual Cell™ technology, we believe enterprises will be able to offer their users a consistently productive experience with the ability to proactively manage and mitigate application performance issues."
Meru also said it is introducing a wireless intrusion detection/prevention application with monitoring and verification capabilities able to detect unauthorized Wi-Fi access points. The software will be able to protect against DoS attacks, password hacks, and physical layer attacks, Meru said.
AT&T has kicked off a pilot Wi-Fi program in New York City's Times Square that will provide a large outdoor hotspot zone that AT&T users can access with their smartphones, laptops, netbooks, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices. The "hotzone" is a pilot deployment designed to explore the use of Wi-Fi in areas with high 3G traffic and mobile data use, AT&T said.
"Whether they're emailing photos and videos to friends back home, downloading a restaurant review, or ordering discount Broadway tickets online, people in Times Square want the mobile broadband connection that lets them get the most done in the least amount of time," said John Donovan, AT&T chief technology officer. "With this pilot AT&T Wi-Fi hotzone, we're examining new ways to combine our Wi-Fi and 3G networks to help ensure that AT&T customers in Times Square always have a fast mobile broadband connection to do what matters most to them. It's another example of how AT&T is exploring the ideal blend of technologies to maximize the mobile experience for our customers in New York City."
Depending on the results of the pilot location, AT&T said it might deploy additional hotzones in other areas across the country. The one in Times Square is available at no additional charge for some 32 million AT&T customers with qualifying smartphone, 3G LaptopConnect, and AT&T HIgh Speed Internet plans.
Alaska Airlines is taking Wi-Fi to the skies on six Boeing 737-800 aircraft, the company announced earlier this week. The Wi-Fi service comes courtesy of Aircell's Gogo inflight Internet and will be offered free of charge for the next couple of months by entering the promotional code ALASKAVISA.
"Through July 31, our customers traveling on Wi-Fi-equipped planes will be able to try out the new Gogo service at no cost, courtesy of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card," said Joe Sprague, Alaska's vice president of marketing.
Alaska Airlines said it plans to install Gogo on the company's entire fleet of 737-800s and -900s by the end of summer, with 737-400s and -700s to follow suit later this year.
Maximum PC readers don't need to be reminded why encrypting their wireless networks is important, but a recent slip up by the Google Street View team only serves to drive home the point. In a posting released on the European Public Policy Blog Google was forced to admit that in addition to collecting SSID and MAC address information about passing networks, payload information was also collected and archived. In Google's defense the only information that was acquired is data that was being transmitted over open Wi-Fi, but it only serves to fuel the fears, particularly in Europe that the Street View Cars are up to no good.
So how exactly did this happen? In a follow up post Google explained that "in 2006 an engineer working on an experimental WiFi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast WiFi data," Google's Senior VP, Engineering & Research Alan Eustace wrote. "A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic WiFi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google's Street View cars, they included that code in their software-although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data."
Google is consulting with a third party to help them confirm what was collected, and ensure it is properly deleted. You could argue that anyone operating an open hotspot deserves what they get, but at the same time it is important for Google to show the world it has at least a passing respect for our privacy given the sheer volume of personal information they seem to be privileged to.
Bits of information have been leaking out about Google's next iteration of the Android platform with increasing regularity as we near the Google I/O event. Today we've gotten perhaps the tastiest tidbit yet. According to TechCrunch, Android 2.2 (codenamed Froyo) will have tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality built in. This would be the first modern smartphone platform to integrate these abilities natively, without carrier support.
Just bought a brand-spankin’ new dual-band router? Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard, Binky; your new toy just might be outclassed as soon as the end of this year by the first generation of tri-band devices with wireless radios operating on the 2.4-, 5.0-, and 60GHz frequencies. These could be the first networking products capable moving bits around your house at supremely fast speeds and cooking a pizza at the same time.
We’re just kidding about the pizza, but wireless routers operating on the unlicensed 60GHz frequency band do promise to deliver data throughput as high as 7Gb/sec. The IEEE Task Group AD (TGad for short; not to be confused with “teabag”) is busy developing a standard—IEEE 802.11ad—but the companies hoping to sell actual products based on this new technology aren’t taking any chances that the famously methodical international standards body might take the same long winding road they did with 802.11n. They formed a trade group—the Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig)— in May 2009, and the alliance announced its own first-draft standard today.
This should come as a suprise to absolutely no one, but underground merchants in China are cashing in on weak Wi-Fi encryption by selling network key cracking kits. What is a little surprising, however, is how brazen the sellers have become. Available both online and at China's electronics bazaars, the kits consist of a Wi-Fi USB adapter with a Linux OS, key-breaking software, and an easy-to-follow user manual. The whole shebang is being marketed as free Internet.
It doesn't take a whole of tech savvy to use one of these kits, nor do they require a hefty investment. Some merchants are selling Wi-Fi cracking kits for as little as US$24, and sellers offer free setup from an associate on the opposite end of the building.
Both WEP and WPA keys are vulnerable, the former by exploiting a long-known weakness in the protocol and the latter by way of a brute-force attack.
"Depending on many factors, WEP keys can be extracted in a matter of minutes," said one of the kit's developers who goes by the name Muts. "I believe the record is around 20 seconds."