News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Meet Your Neighbors: What Happens in Vegas Stays in Reston... wait, what?

So you're an IT specialist rocking out at one of the nondescript midrise office buildings fronting the Toll Road. You work hard, but you know when vacation time rolls around, you'll play hard, too. So you buy your plane ticket to Las Vegas and get ready for a wild weekend of carousing, gambling, and scoping out unsecured wireless networks along the Las Vegas Strip using a rented hot-air balloon transmitting data back to a wireless-enabled laptop for later analysis.

Wait, what?

From the balloon's 15 story height, they were able to survey about a 7 1/2 mile (12 kilometers) radius, Hill said. The balloon sent so much data, it just started rushing by on his screen. About one-third of all the networks they spotted were unencrypted, he said.
But this isn't just a run-of-the-mill story about TCP/IP packets and WEP security. In fact, things got so wild and crazy that Rick Hill and his team of volunteers almost got kicked out of a Vegas hotel!
In his day job Hill is a senior scientist with Tenacity Solutions, a security services consultancy in Reston, Va.

Despite methodical preparation for this year's Defcon, and Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) approval, Hill's warballoon almost didn't take off at all.

That's because management at the Riviera Hotel, host of the Defcon hacking conference, changed its mind late last week and told him that he could not launch the balloon from hotel property. In fact, the Riviera said, he couldn't even bring the warballoon into the hotel. The reason for the grounding was vague. Riviera staffers told Hill that local police were concerned after a nearby casino had complained of the operation.
Those pesky stick-in-the-mud casino operators! They just don't want anyone to have any fun at all. So what happened?
The balloon he was using was rented from a national company that rents out the devices for real-estate photography. And though he knew that the balloon was perfectly legal to fly, he was still a little worried about local police shutting him down."That's when we did plan B: the covert operation," he said.
Oooh! Grab your Dr. Pibb and let's go!
To cut down on any chance of the operation being shut down, they quietly inflated the balloon inside a rented moving truck while parked in the Treasure Island hotel parking lot. Then they drove to a nearby park and set it off from an abandoned parking lot. "It probably took us less than five minutes to get the balloon airborne." he said.

Near the end of the operation, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police cruiser drove by the parking lot to see what was going on. Hill and his team waved. The police officers waved back and drove off.
Actually, this sounds like a lot more fun than the usual Vegas fare to us. But then again, we've been called nerds before.

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