The PhoneBoy Blog

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My Response to the Whisher Folks

I love the blogosphere. It’s a conversation. Lately, it’s been interesting. Today, I am responding to Mike Puchol at Whisher on my FON vs Whisher posting:

Thanks for sharing your concerns about Whisher, but I believe your analysis is not accurate in some aspects. First, Whisher works on top of FON, that means, you can share your Fonera with others through Whisher. That a few hackers can open the Fonera and reflash it does -not- mean the thousands of non-technical users out there will be able to do the same.

The Linksys routers that FON originally sent out are, in fact, very easy to hack. Just load new firmware. The LaFonera routers are a little more difficult, from what I’ve read.  I have no doubt that the FON hackers will find a way to make that process a little easier. I certainly don’t need to hack a FON router except as a curiousity–I have more than enough WiFi access points already.

My understanding was that the service required WEP/WPA, which at least my Linksys FON router won’t do. I believe the new LaFonera routers support dual SSID and thus would support the possibility of Whisher. I did order a new LaFonera to confirm that for sure.

  1. Whisher is a LOT more than a WiFi finder/IM application. It offers controlled WiFi sharing, and more information about the signals present than any other application out there, such as average signal strength (useful for finding the best spot other people connected from) and availability. On top of that, file sharing over WiFi is also available, meaning you can transfer large amounts of data in very short time, and we made it as easy as drag & drop. It offers IM, of course, and this will improve over the next few weeks with some nice extra twists – but the you also get instant presence information about who is connected to the same WiFi as you are. Shall I go on? :) Geolocation of your buddies, local services that can be customized on a per-hostpot basis…

Knowing who is connected to the WiFi and providing some control over that is useful. I believe you get some of that information via the FON portal, but I haven’t had any real users come use my access point since I am kind of in the middle of nowhere. Maybe they provide some control, but I doubt it.

Again, the file transfer, while I have no doubt it is fast and easy, is just not a compelling reason. Geolocation would be potentially interesting once a critical mass of Whisher-enabled hotspots is available, but right now, it’s just a curiousity.

  1. If you don’t like to share your AP, then don’t. You can still use all the other features that Whisher offers. If you do decide to share, you can do so in a controlled fashion, either you are OK with everyone having access to your WiFi, or you share in buddies-only mode, whereby only those in your buddy list will get your key. If someone wants to have access, they just need to ask you to add them to your buddy list, it’s as simple as that. Finally, you can share in private mode, giving only your closest contacts VIP status, so not even your non-VIP buddies will be able to get in. Changing modes is basically clicking on a button – that is it, all done from the client.

Granular sharing is good, something FON lacks. However, I tend to either want to share with everyone or nobody. It’s a much easier decision to make, and doesn’t require software.

If you are worried about segregating your network from the public one, then just install a router with DD-WRT, which provides dual SSIDs, one you can share with Whisher in private mode, and the other in public mode. We have implemented a ‘master’ function, which is not yet available in the client, which lets you ‘pool’ access points, so that people connecting to any pooled node will join the same chatroom, have presence information, etc. about anyone connected on any of the other nodes. This way you could control both SSIDs with the client transparently. If you think FON is the only way to securely share WiFi, your analysis is not complete.

Actually, FON isn’t exactly sure either. Dual SSIDs, which supposedly the latest LaFoneras support as well as DD-WRT firmware on Links devices, isn’t the most secure either. In theory, if you somehow compromise the access point, you could potentially hop between networks. Even though the risk is fairly small, I don’t personally take it. I run two physically different access points–one with FON and one without. In fact, I plug nothing into the FON access point except for the occasional test PC. I have them connected to different Internet connections as well. Even if someone does compromise the access point, there’s nothing there for anyone to find.

  1. Our business model is based on local & premium services, advertising, and other revenue paths we have identified. We don’t plan to charge for the client, or resell access. The are many incentives for using Whisher, from the philanthropist thought of free WiFi, to wanting to create a closed network with your friends & family, and making it easy to manage.

I do have to agree that making it easy to manage a closed network of WiFis is kind of a neat idea. Whether or not other people will think it’s a good idea remains to be seen.

You may want to work on creating a page or some documentation explaining to people how to more securely share their WiFi, and what place Whisher serves in that. A lot of people don’t understand what WPA is and why using WEP or no encryption at all is an exceedingly bad idea (NEVER suggest WEP, always suggest WPA). I had to educate a neighbor about this recently as I went over to her house to help with with an unrelated issue. She had no idea that people could be using her network without her knowledge!

You can do “Free” WiFi with FON as well. All you have to do is create a local login and password in your FON portal and add that information to your splash page. Then anyone can use it.

In any case, I will be watching Whisher. I will probably load it up on a PC and make one of my routers Whisher-enabled, just because I’m a nice guy. Whether or not I will want to keep the client on at all times remains to be seen.

#Cybersecurity Evangelist, Podcaster, #noagenda Producer, Frequenter of shiny metal tubes, Expressor of personal opinions, and of course, a coffee achiever.