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August 18, 2011

Wi-Fi Tester Used by Police to Track Child Pornographers

EVERETT, Wa.—A company called Fluke Networks announced at the annual Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas that its Aircheck Wi-Fi Tester is being used by police departments in their efforts to combat child pornography. The device, which verifies and troubleshoots 802.11 a/b/g/n networks, is currently being used by at least one California police department to help track down suspected child pornographers using Wi-Fi networks. The Wi-Fi Tester can also be used to track down people suspected of identity theft, internet stalking, online phishing scams or other internet-related crimes, including, presumably, copyright infringement. Think of it as a portable Big Brother. In a press release issued last week the company outlined how it can be used by law enforcement to identify and located suspected criminals by allowing officers to: * Drive by a suspected location and identify all the wireless networks in use; * Utilize the product’s directional antenna to determine if a wireless network inside a suspect’s location is secured or unsecured; * More confidently enter the suspect’s location, if they determine a wireless network is secured, knowing that illegal internet content is being downloaded from within that residence; * Track the suspected client (laptop, smartphone, etc.) location if a wireless network is determined to be unsecured, since there is a chance a non-resident is piggybacking onto the resident’s wireless network from a nearby location and downloading child pornography. However, neither the press release nor the product demo available on the company website explains in what way the device helps identify suspected criminals if more than one person is piggybacking on a secured network, probably because it cannot. In that case, old-fashioned police work will probably be required. Still, Sergeant Dave Mathers of the Electronic Crimes Unit of the City of Martinez Police Department, which decided to go with the Aircheck device after testing other Wi-Fi trackers available on the market, commented in the Fluke press release. “Combating the growing threat of child pornography on the Internet is a nationwide priority,” he said. “AirCheck is a simple, elegant, and easy-to-use tool that aids in locating suspects on wireless networks. The tool easily verifies wireless network settings, providing us with more confidence that we’ve identified the suspect’s location. Using this information, we can eliminate more variables while focusing on the suspect downloading the illegal content." Though developed by Fluke for use by companies to verify and troubleshoot their own networks, the company is obviously also publicizing its use as a crime-fighting tool. That’s fine as far as it goes, but because the device is useless in terms of identifying content-specific activity, its actual value in terms of aiding in convictions remains to be seen. It also will be interesting to see in what ways criminal defense attorneys attack the technology when their clients are identified by it, and also in what ways Wi-Fi freeloaders, real cybercriminals and the Anthony Weiners of the world try to circumvent it.

 
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