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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Germany Will Take Over Private Wi-Fi in Case of Emergency

A team of wireless researchers from Germany has recently worked out a way to enhance the communications abilities of different emergency services by the means of taking over private Wi-Fi connections within the area.

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This suggestion was worked out by a team of researchers led by PhD student Kamill Panitzek from Technische Universit├Ąt Darmstadt in Germany. The proposal requires the creation of a so-called “emergency switch” which would allow the government staff to turn off the security mechanisms in the Wi-Fi routers from private homes.

In other words, the first responders will be able to use all the routers within range to increase the capabilities of the mesh networks which let them communicate with each other. The suggestion was laid out in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Mobile Network Design and Innovation, and is currently getting some attention, predominantly thanks to a press release titled “Your Wi-Fi Router Could Save Lives in an Emergency”.

The document acknowledges both privacy and security concerns, while not suggesting ways to avoid them. The press release just claims that this emergency network should be isolated from the people’s home network in order to protect privacy of the citizens.

Kamill Panitzek explained that this could be easily accomplished, because it’s already possible to install a home network along with a guest network in order to grant online access to visitors. The network of this type could be set up by sending firmware updates to routers instead of requiring new hardware.

Such Wi-Fi mesh network would find itself on top of the privately owned routers like “backbone in case of a disaster”. The emergency network could also make use of mobile phone networks.

Another insecurity expert Bruce Schneier told in the interview that the suggestion was quite similar to the so-called online kill switch that would let the authorities close down the Internet in the event of a major cyber attack. According to Schneier, once such a system is built, the security should also be built in order to make sure only the right people use it. However, that isn’t very easy and the reality is that it is much more secure not to have those capabilities. 

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