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Bug Windows Wireless Networking

Why You See 'Free Public WiFi' In So Many Places 260

Posted by Soulskill
from the deja-vu-all-over-again dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Almost anywhere you go these days (particularly at airports), if you check for available WiFi settings, you have a pretty good chance of seeing an ad hoc network for 'Free Public WiFi.' Of course, since it's ad hoc (computer to computer) it's not actually access to the internet. So why is this in so many places? Turns out it's due to a bug in Windows XP. Apparently, the way XP works is that if it can't find a 'favorite' WiFi hotspot, it automatically sets up the computer to broadcast itself as an ad hoc network point, using the name of the last connection the computer attempted. So... people see 'Free Public WiFi' and they try to log on. Then their own computer starts broadcasting the same thing, because it can't find a network it knows. And, like a virus, the 'Free Public WiFi' that doesn't work lives on and on and on."
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Why You See 'Free Public WiFi' In So Many Places

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  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jorl17 (1716772) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:36PM (#33861622)
    Windows really *is* a virus!

    Ah!
  • Heh! (Score:4, Funny)

    by cytoman (792326) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:36PM (#33861634)
    That's the SSID for my home wi-fi :-D.
  • by TamCaP (900777) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:36PM (#33861636)
    I guess I am not the only one that is thinking that "Free Internet" SSID is a perfect vector for a MIM attack. Has anyone heard of any cases where it has already been exploited?
    • I always assumed those SSIDs were people phishing. I guess I'm reassured to learn that the world is not that uniformly malicious.

  • Dupe (Score:2, Informative)

    by wiredog (43288)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WarlockD (623872)

      Slashdot is starting to become a news aggregator. I knew about this bug since 2003 and evey few years someone digs it out, either blaming it on a bad configuration or a virus attack. Hell its not even a bug if you have your WiFi properly set up to never connect to ad-hoc networks.

      To be honest, this is the first time I have read the true reason and not try the whole "the internet is dangerous and full of viruses" reason. Its hard to even classify it as a bug as it would make it convenient to auto connect

  • Old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by lavagolemking (1352431) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:38PM (#33861652)
    Steve Gibson covered this over 3 years ago. https://www.grc.com/sn/sn-082.htm [grc.com]
  • Damnit.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Quantus347 (1220456) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:39PM (#33861662)
    You found me out... I was using it to make a chain of roaming broadcast nodes to beam PETA propaganda directly to your fillings. I guess now I'll have to use twitter.
  • by Suiggy (1544213) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:40PM (#33861670)
    Queue the picture featuring a pair of laughing girls.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:49PM (#33861770)

      Queue the picture featuring a pair of laughing girls.

      Sure, why should today be any different than any other day in my life...

      *sighs*

  • by sea4ever (1628181) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:44PM (#33861722) Homepage
    At my old school which I left earlier this year, I remember setting up my laptop as an ad-hoc access point to test some music streaming with VLC.
    I have no idea why, but someone must have tried to connect to it. Now, almost a year after leaving that school, people still tell me that the 'ghost' of my laptop broadcasting can still be seen.
    There are 2 ad-hoc networks out there that are 'ghosts' now, the first is my nickname (yeah, bad choice for a perpetuating network, I know) and the second is named after the university network, which is accessible on clear days.
  • Sounds like something that could be exploited...

  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:52PM (#33861810) Homepage Journal
    The claim of

    Almost anywhere you go these days (particularly at airports), if you check for available WiFi settings, you have a pretty good chance of seeing an ad hoc network for 'Free Public WiFi.'

    Doesn't match my experience. I have done a fair bit of flying lately - and always needing at least one connection each time because my closest airport sucks - and haven't seen it at the airports I've been to. I have checked for WiFi at coffee shops and restaurants and haven't seen that SSID there either. Lately I have been connecting through some of the busiest airports in the country (O'Hare and Newark Liberty in particular) and haven't seen this.

    In fact, I can't think of the last time I did see it. I often use my blackberry to access open WiFi spots, and I don't have a record of a network that I have connected to called 'Free Public WiFi'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by js3 (319268)

      Yea I was like wtf. You really don't see a lot of these, maybe 1 or 2 at certain airports but it's hardly newsworthy.

    • by clone53421 (1310749) on Monday October 11, 2010 @02:57PM (#33861858) Journal

      I can remember seeing it a few times... like 2 years ago. Sort of like this story...

      • by Locutus (9039)
        we see mostly Apple computers at the airport these days so that explains it. ;-)

        LoB
    • by Enry (630)

      I saw it just over a week ago in PHL on my iPod touch. There's also one hiding somewhere near the State Street T station in Boston.

    • by kidcharles (908072) on Monday October 11, 2010 @03:08PM (#33861958)
      I commute through New York Penn Station twice every day. I don't think I've ever NOT seen "Free Public Wifi" on the list of connections on my Nokia N900.
    • YMMV ...

      I see it every time I go through Kansas City (MCI) and Denver which is twice a month right now.

    • by Shin-LaC (1333529)
      I see it all the time on Italian trains.
    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      >I have done a fair bit of flying lately - and always needing at least one connection each time because my closest airport sucks - and haven't seen it at the airports I've been to.

      If we're comparing anecdotes, I once saw it on a plane during the flight. I pretty much see it anytime I use my laptop or phone in a business setting too. Assuming Vista/7 doesn't do this, then I'm sure its going to become increasingly rare.

    • by Damek (515688)

      I see it all over New York City, FWIW. I even see it on the Subway sometimes, but certainly, just walking around, especially office areas, I see it all the time.

    • by PhilHibbs (4537)

      The last three offices I worked in all had non-working "Free public WiFi". I guess I was perpetuating it as well since I tried to connect to it with my work laptop :)

    • by spasm (79260)

      I see it at LAX every time I go there - about 4 or 5 times in the last 12 months. And on Amtrak between LA and San Diego pretty much every week. Maybe it's a Southern California Stupid thing?

    • by joshuac (53492)

      I often use my blackberry to access open WiFi spots, and I don't have a record of a network that I have connected to called 'Free Public WiFi'.

      Err, OS 5 certainly doesn't support ad hoc connections (I doubt OS 6 does either) so possibly your observation is being colored by your blackberry helpfully filtering those SSID's out.

      Depending on the configuration of the tool you're using on your laptop, it very likely is doing the same thing to protect a less experienced user from connecting to a useless ad hoc network themselves.

      I still see it reasonably often at the airport (OAK or SFO), sometimes in other fairly random locations, though it seems less n

    • by CrashandDie (1114135) on Monday October 11, 2010 @06:19PM (#33863758)

      Well, and this is from my logs, I've seen 'Free Public Wifi' in ad-hoc mode:

      2009-03-29 LHR
      2009-03-29 LAX
      2009-04-03 LAX
      2009-04-05 DTW
      2009-04-06 LHR
      2009-04-06 LGW
      2009-04-12 LGW
      2009-04-18 LHR
      2009-04-18 LAX
      2009-04-29 DFW

      And that's just over the course of one month.

      Looking at another random month:

      2010-01-04 LGW
      2010-01-04 LHR
      2010-01-06 BKK
      2010-01-06 SYD
      2010-01-06 BNE
      2010-01-14 BNE
      2010-01-14 LHR
      2010-01-18 LHR
      2010-01-18 LAX

      I'd pretty much say this exactly confirms what the article spells out. (For the record, I was a Consultant, getting drunk in airplanes was my job).

    • I've seen it at every airport that I've been to in the last year. IAD, ORD, NRT, MSP, SFO, CVG, LAX...
    • by Zadaz (950521)

      Not an airport, but I see it right now at a downtown San Francisco Starbucks. I probably see it around 50% of the time that I'm in a downtown coffee shop.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2010 @03:03PM (#33861908)

    to be affected. This was fixed in XP SP3. Love lines like "When a computer running an older version of XP ...." without further explanation. Haters gonna hate!

  • This is a really bad case of FUD. And it's just as bad when someone other than MS does it.

  • It 'seems lately that lots of HAD articles are popping up automatically on slashdot. If you watch the RSS feeds out there of the tech sites you can watch the wave of stories copy from site to site.. It used to be that slashdot had them first or did not cover what was already copied all over the place...

    Has slashdot ran out of good submissions and is not simply posting what pops up out of other sites RSS feeds?

    • by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Monday October 11, 2010 @03:51PM (#33862438)
      Almost anywhere you go these days (particularly on slashdot), if you check for new stories, you have a pretty good chance of seeing a a duped story from another site. Of course, since it's a duped story (news site to news site) it's not actually news. So why is this in so many places? Turns out it's due to a bug in site moderators. Apparently, the way they work is that if they can't find a 'new' story, they automatically sets up their site to broadcast a duped story, using the title of the last story that was popular. So... people see this and they try to read it. Then their own favorite sites start broadcasting the same thing, because it can't find a good story on its own. And, like a virus, the 'Duped Story' that doesn't work lives on and on and on."
  • At a university I attended, I noticed that, year after year, I would keep seeing the same ad-hoc name, across many different dorms on the same, big campus. The university had wireless in most of its academic buildings and some parts of the dorms, but most people in dorm rooms couldn't get it (we were encouraged to use the provided wired connection instead). Someone must have made an ad-hoc who knows how long ago (it was called "{university name} wireless", which is nothing like what the actual university's
  • IPVFore! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 11, 2010 @04:33PM (#33862830)

    I was once called out for an emergency network repair at a local country club. A company had hired out the banquet room for a large business meeting, and could not get the wireless to work. When I arrived on site, I found that everyone in the room was connected to Free Public Wifi, being broadcast by one of the company owners' laptops. Turned out, the golf course did not have a wireless access point at all.

  • Seeing that SSID in your client list is just Microsoft's subtle way of telling you to INSTALL XP SP3.
  • With all the overlapping WiFi routers, computers, phones, etc. out there, why not set all up for a mundane ad-hoc network? In time, could overtake wired networks; the consequences could be useful, fascinating, and perhaps staggering...

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