Babies for Free Wi-fi! Anyone?

An experiment showcasing the dangers of free public Wi-Fi got a number of people to exchange their first-born child, just so that they could enjoy surfing the web. The experiment, a brainchild of a certain security firm, created a Wi-Fi hotspot in Central London and then waited for their first target.

While connecting to the hotspot, the users had to agree to terms and conditions, especially one that was called the ‘Herod Clause’, which agreed to free Wi-Fi only if the users “agreed to assign their first-born child to us for the duration of eternity.” (An April fool prank carried out by Gamestation, 2010, inspired the clause wording).

Around half a dozen people agreed to these bizarre terms, which thankfully, the security firm had no plans to enforce. The main aim of the research was to illuminate security issues associated with public Wi-Fi use.

Apart from showing the users how easy it was to con them (they didn’t read the terms and conditions), the researchers exposed another serious issue that allows the providers of the Wi-Fi hotspot to see and store everything that the users see and log into.

According to Mirror.co.uk, the same firm tested this again by placing a Wi-Fi hotspot in Central London. Within 30 minutes, around 250 devices (laptops, mobiles and tablets) connected to the hot spot and more than 30 people were seen checking their emails and browsing the Internet.

The security firm was easily able to capture all the data sent and received, including the usernames and passwords. They tried to educate the people by making them realize that any criminal could easily hack into and collect their personal data this way.

Criminals don’t need to set up their own Wi-Fi; they can look into the service that is providing the Wi-Fi to get what they want. This is usually done by copying a particular hot spot name and then ‘catching’ people’s devices by having a stronger signal and passing on the traffic towards a legitimate source.

This means that the criminal here is the middleman; all the data would pass through his device first.

The best way to avoid such a nightmare is to probably to avoid public Wi-Fi altogether or use a VPN (virtual private network) to save you from prying eyes.

Biohacking: Intriguing Science or Hazard?

In its original sense, hacking involves taking things apart and putting them back together again in new, different ways. This sort of tinkering has helped in the creation of the “maker movement”, which has grown into a worldwide community of people constructing things ranging from robots to 3D technology.

Bio hacking is a fairly new concept that involves people getting together to explore biology. Bio hackers have started to organize themselves in a movement called DIYBio (Do-It-Yourself Biology). It takes place in small labs where the belief is that “biology is technology”; that DNA is a form of software that can be moulded to design biological processes and devices. There is a growing concern that such amateur laboratories could provide a sort of training for bio terrorists or something equally bad, but they’re still nascent worries.

Nearly fifty cities, mostly in America and Europe, are now home to groups of bio hackers where they meet and experiment. No one can confirm the number of bio hackers around the world but the movement’s main online list boasts of more than 4,000 members and is growing rapidly.

Now, hacking also has a negative connotation – when a hacker hacks your computer, you’d want him/her to be punished. But that’s not bio hacking. Bio hacking means learning about stuff by building, and trying to make things and seeing what eventually happens.

Another concept of hacking is from a different source, where a person hacks into his own body. There are two types of bio hacking – one is something you do with biology, outside yourself. The other perspective is one where you hack your own biology and gain control of systems in your body that you would not have access to.

An Australian news site has interviewed bio hacker Dave Asprey a.k.a. The Bulletproof Executive, who is spearheading a new breed of bio hackers – a group obsessed with making yourself faster, smarter and stronger through a combination of caveman diets and the latest in modern technology. Mr Asprey got hooked on to the idea after running his own software company left him rich but unhappy. He was overweight at 130 kg and wandered around dazed every day.

He poured $300,000 into hacking his own body and now runs an empire touting everything from his morning coffee to his followers. He takes supplements and applies electricity to his muscles and brain, saying that it helps improve his body and mind.

He has not published his work in scientific journals or even had his work evaluated, but he staunchly maintains that he’s a bio hacker.

All this sounds interesting and is definitely catching everyone’s eye, but how do you define a complex, multi-layered term such as this one? Who draws the fine line between miracle and disaster?

Since this is a community-run pastime, you, the reader, should decide.