Vacation War Driving From Pasadena, CA to San Francisco, CA

By unwire, December 20, 2005

Note: Originally published in 2001. For historical purposes only. Slashdotted 12/01

Making 802.11b Wireless Access Point mapping fun
for  the  whole family.

        We had planned to spend the weekend with family in Cupertino, CA.
right in the heart of silicon valley. Flying was not worth it with new
hassles of flying these days, plus the cost of two adults and seats for
two children were more than we wanted to spend. The drive was going to
take 6.5 hours  according to Mapquest. So we decided to drive.
I’ve been War Driving  (Access Point Mapping) around the
Los Angeles area for months now and this would be a good opportunity
to see how popular 802.11b has become in more rural areas. Also, I’ve
read many other accounts of the density of 802.11b in the San Francisco bay
area, this was a good opportunity to see this for myself.

               The Setup


              My normal War Driving setup is a laptop on the passenger seat
of my car.   Since this was a family trip I needed to locate the laptop
elsewhere. The whole setup needed to be easy and reliable since a family
vacation   means  that my family gets most of my attention. I located the
laptop in  the very  rear of our SUV. The Garmin Etrex GPS unit was in it’s
normal place  in a suction cup holder above the dash. The GPS would help
us navigate onour trip as well as providing the 802.11b Access Point
coordinates for   the  maps. I bought two 6′ mail/female 9 pin serial
cables to extend   the  GPS to the rear where the laptop was located. An inverter
is used to   provide  continues power to the laptop. The laptop power cable
is long enough   to reach  from the inverter all the way to the back of the



The Laptop is an old Pentium 120 laptop, 80 Meg. Ram, running
Windows 2000  Pro. It runs very well on this old machine. I found that
NT and Windows 98  weren’t reliable enough. I have it setup to auto-login
into Windows  and  auto-start  Netstumbler. It’s using a Lucent (Orinoco) 802.11b card with an external  antenna
available from Pasadena Networks.
The magnetic mount antenna  is on the roof of
the SUV. I’ve used  Velcro  wrap to fasten the cables  to the luggage
rack so I can insert and remove  my daughters from their car  seats  without
worrying about bent or cut antenna  wires.

              As we leave Pasadena we pick up all the Access Points I normally see while driving around. As you can imagine, we’re picking
these up at highway speeds. Remember how your 802.11b manual states
that you can only use your wireless network within a few hundred feet?
Depending you the terrain, antenna   and building construction it can
go much further. The map has red dots for each Access point detected.
Note: there are Access points on both the 210 and 5 freeways since
we departed on one and returned on the other. Note: Click on maps to see larger images.




          Part of my reason for doing this during this vacation was to find
out if there were many access points in the more rural areas.
Well, there are plenty. While driving north on I-5 there were
many large warehouse  facilities  that had many Access

          Notes: I used yellow or red dots for the Access points on these


San Luis Obispo


              There are Access Points mapped on both the I-5 and the 101.
On our  way to Santa Clara we traveled on I-5. On the way back we traveled on the 101 and  stayed one night in San Luis Obispo. SLO is a very nice
"small town" in California. Home to the 

Madonna Inn  the world famous  gum alley and  my favorite place to stay and eat breakfast, 
The Apple Farm

           Don’t let the map deceive you. We only drove down a few streets
   (remember,  this is a family vacation)  during our stay in SLO. I’m
   sure there  are many more than the ones we mapped.

              I need to mention the great dinner we had a Café Roma. It’s been there at least 20 years run
by an Italian family.


Bay Area


Bay Area

          The Silicon Valley area has been mapped many many times. There
is  little      that I can add to what has already been said about the
state  of 802.11b   in  this area. Every Starbucks has an Access Point.
Nearly  every major   company   has one or several dozen. One thing I
did observe.  With this   area being the  high tech. capital, and all
the press about  802.11b  insecurities you’d   think that most
networks were secured.  From  the findings of Netstumbler it  appeared
that many of the Access  Points  were setup with insecure configurations.

              We took my kids and their cousins to the San Francisco Exploratorium. The row of dots up to the Golden Gate bridge bridge are from the trip
  up   and back.


              A few notes about 802.11b security:

              My War Driving laptop has tcp/ip disabled to prevent an accidental intrusion. Otherwise, it would have been easy to get free Internet
access behind many corporate firewalls.
              Nearly all of the 802.11b wireless equipment that I have evaluated is factory configured with the lowest possible security settings. No
accesscontrol and no encryption. It’s up to the user to secure
the equipment that is plugged into their network.

              Would you run a long Ethernet cable to from your office onto
the sidewalk or street? Of course not, why give everyone else access
to your internal computers? Wireless does not end at the walls of your
office  or home. I’ve picked up wireless networks almost a mile
away with the equipment that I described at the beginning of this article.
              I have a client who has no wireless Access Points in their
office. However, if I plug in my wireless card into my laptop, the
neighboring office suite obliges my laptop by giving me access to
their internal network!

              Although WEP has been weakened, at least it prevents easy access to your network (Airsnort and WEPcrack can break WEP keys with enough time  and data). Without encryption on wireless there is nothing preventing the passive, undetectable sniffing of your traffic.

   Recently I did a demonstration of this for the Southern California Wireless User Group

Pasadena IBM User Group and SGVLUG
.I had two laptops with wireless cards. I checked my email on one.
On the other, I ran a sniffer. The sniffer laptop was able to read my email,
grab  my user id and password. This is totally passive and undetectable!



              Our trip was fun for all of us. Lots of good food and fun with
  our   relatives.    The kids were well behaved in the car and my wife was
  understanding   about    the extra equipment in the car. 802.11b wireless
  equipment is very   easy  to  install and has become very inexpensive.
It’s   everywhere  now, in  homes  and businesses. Wireless network
technology has  made the use of computer   systems so very easy and convenient.
Lets be sure  to understand   the equipment   that we plug into our networks.
Read the manuals, or hire   a experienced security   consultant to make sure
that you are secure in your  use of this technology.


  1. Denis Casey says:

    I have a laptop with a pc card for internet access. I recently got a outlandish bill. I was charged 573.00 of overage usage. I had no idea that someone else could use my card if connected to my laptop. Is this possible? I have never had an overuse before. Can you help me?

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