April 16, 2004 -- In this week's Cybershake, we take a look at how wireless video cameras are sparking a different kind of eavesdropping. Plus, we note a novel way to get rid of all those hard-to-remember computer passwords.
Wireless Eye Spies
Wireless technology has spawned a whole host of useful devices from cell phones to mobile computers that stay connected to the Net using radio waves. But it's also spawned a greater threat: clandestine electronic eavesdropping.
One of the latest concerns is over so-called war-spies — hobbyists who use inexpensive technology to pick up the video signals transmitted by wireless surveillance cameras. Since these video signals are typically not encrypted from prying eyes, war-spiers have free and untraceable access to whatever the cameras see.
And that, says Doug Honig of the American Civil Liberties Union, can lead to a very serious privacy problem.
"Just about everything you do out in public can be seen by somebody without you knowing it," says Honig.
Bill Traver had installed a wireless video surveillance system, hoping that it would add a layer of protection to his art gallery. But when he found that war-spies were picking up on his camera signals, "Well, it kind of makes us change maybe a little bit about the way we might think about how we use our camera for security purposes."
But not every wireless video user is aware of war-spying, nor is there a clear-cut answer to dealing with the problem.
Some legal experts say, for example, that snatching "open broadcasts" — say, from the wireless baby monitor being used by a neighbor — isn't illegal yet. Nor would it be clear if any antiwar-spying legislation could be enforceable since there's no way to trace who's receiving such broadcasts over publicly available wireless channels.
And protecting yourself from hidden but prying eyes isn't easy. There are handheld meters that can pick up hidden-camera signals. But unless you have ones of those devices, you'll just have to keep looking over your shoulder.
— Michael Barr, ABCNEWS
Giving Passwords the Finger
How many computer login IDs and passwords do you have? If you're an average user, you probably have close to 10 or 13 online identities. And no matter if it's a login for Yahoo!, eBay, or Amazon, chances are you use the same password — your birthday or the name of your dog or child — for each.
While that might make it easier for you to remember how to log in to various sites, it's not exactly a hacker-proof security practice. So, a company called DigitalPersona has come up with an even easier and possibly safer way to log on with a fingerprint recognition system.
"Basically anytime you need to log into anything, you just simply will place your finger on the sensor, and a fingerprint match will occur on the server, and proceed to log you into the application," says Vance Bjorn, chief technology officer and co-founder of DigitalPersona.
In other words, your finger will become your key to online security.
"You never have to remember a password, you never have to create a password, and you can never forget a password [to login]," says Harry Bondar, vice president of marketing for DigitalPersona.
And Bjorn says users don't have to worry about privacy issues.
"We never actually store your fingerprint image, but we create a 300-byte template of some of the salient features of your fingerprint," he says. And that incomplete image works well enough to identify you as you.
The DigitalPersona digital fingerprint scanner costs about $200, but discounts are available for large corporate customers.
— Cheri Preston, ABCNEWS
Cybershake is produced for ABCNEWS Radio by Andrea J. Smith.