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Computer security expert Jonas Luster unearthed more than just his e-mail when he signed on to a wireless network for travelers at San Jose International Airport.
Within minutes of connecting his laptop using a wireless modem, the Campbell, Calif.-based consultant gained access to a second network belonging to American Airlines" curbside baggage check-in system. It asked if Luster wanted to send data.
"I could probably check in bags that didnt exist and maybe do other things," said Luster, who was asked by Computerworld magazine to test wireless security at airports for a recent article. "If they are not security conscious at that point, one can only wonder, "When do they start?""
Lured by cost savings and the ease of connecting computers without stringing wires, consumers and businesses are setting up wireless networks in droves. The number of wireless network shipments for PCs and other devices has grown to 9 million annually in 2001 and is expected to increase to about 56 million by 2006, according to the research group Allied Business Intelligence Inc.
But the technology has raised questions about security and privacy at a time when the U.S. is trying to bolster its domestic defense and protect sensitive data from hackers and other unauthorized users.