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May 27, 2004

Book Review: WarDriving

1931836035.01.LZZZZZZZNobody likes to make enemies, but I have to be honest about the dollar-to-content value of this book: Let me be clear from the outset. I don't know any of the authors of this book, except by reputation, and have nothing but the highest regard for their technical knowledge and their achievements. The folks who wrote WarDriving: Drive, Detect, Defend are experts about most of what they write about, and offer great technical insights and tips throughout.

That said, I can't recommend this book primarily because the best advice is already available on the Web for free in much the same form; chunks of the most practical early part of the book are repetitive to cover different operating systems or scenarios with the same approach; the middle part of the book comprises a 60-page-long set of anecdotes with long code extracts; and the last part of the book features security advice that's somewhat strange focusing on commercial software and hardware that's obscure and hard to use and mostly out of keeping with the kind of audience that could possibly be interested in this title.

A factor that led to book bloat (520 pages, no CD-ROM, $49.99) is the lengthy reproduction of code, sometimes double spaced that a reader must be expected to input rather than download or copy and paste from a Web page. Further, many of the programs seem too idiosyncratic to be of general utility, arguing against their inclusion in the printed book even if other programs were printed in full.

For fairness's sake, after reading this book a few weeks ago, I sent the publisher's publicist contact my remarks and a list of errors found in the book. I was promised some follow up and didn't get it, so the statute of limitations of waiting for a response to specifics has ended. I should also make it clear that I have co-written a book on wireless networking which has practically no overlap with this book.

In general, the book is best at collecting and providing documentation on the trickiest aspects of scanning for, recording, and defending against wardriving and Wi-Fi network cracking. Some of the areas on defense are the strongest in the book, although other areas seem highly misguided.

From the first page of the book to the end of Chapter 7, page 243, it's at its strongest. It's a cogent, how-to guide to installing and using stumbling and detection software. While much of this could be found online, it's the best use of screen captures, code excerpts, configuration details, and tips. If the book had ended on page 243 and cost, say, $30, I'd be giving it an entirely positive review.

My only real problem with that first chunk is on pages 5 and 6, where warchalking is treated contemptuously for no good reason I can determine. The sidebar makes it sound like warchalking was a media invention instead of a set of simple graphics invented by Matt Jones. (For some odd reason, there's a sub-class of writers who are Jones deniers or ignorers--a major newsmagazine refused my request to correct a statement in a Wi-Fi article that read "nobody knows who invented warchalking," for instance.) There's also a specious survey of 48 people who have never seen a warchalking mark in the wild, "proving" that warchalking doesn't exist.

But contradictorily, warchalking is then used throughout the rest of the book. It's used to identify software, meeting points, the WorldWide Wardrive--and that doesn't include the companies like Jiwire or hotspots community and commercial that have adopted the )( symbol. I can't quite figure out the rant's purpose or intent. It doesn't matter if warchalking marks have appeared spontaneously on pavement; it does matter that a recognizable graphic element has entered the group consciousness, which the book proves it has.

The book abruptly shifts into anecdote in Chapter 8 starting on page 245 and continuing through many DefCons and WorldWide Wardrives and fully reproduced scripts to page 313. I'm sure to offend the author of that section, but dropping the scripts and condensing the long stories of interest primarily to the participants--do we really care about the parking lot at the hotel?--would have provided better advice for creating wardrives and contests. A few pages of anecdote, downloadable code, and a tightly written set of guidelines and principles would have been much more useful.

Chapter 9 effectively covers a range of methods to compromise encryption or networks, and offers good advice about it. But the remainder of the book is spotty. It has quite basic chunks on using WEP and WPA which seem out of place--more manual-like than book-like. And the authors spend quite a while covering one free (from Reefedge, but at no charge) and three commercial methods (Linksys, Microsoft, and Funk) of securing access, some of which are quite extraordinary, such as using a Linksys VPN router to configure an end-to-end tunnel to secure traffic. I've tried using that Linksys VPN to do that, and even with the number of pages devoted to it in this book, it's not for the faint of heart.

The coverage of using EAP-TLS over 802.1X as a reasonable method baffles me. It requires a public key infrastructure, and has several alternatives, including PEAP and EAP-TTLS, that avoid the PKI issue entirely. PEAP can be implemented for free, as well, instead of using a commercial server.

Oddly, too, there's no reference to FreeRADIUS which has Wi-Fi authentication components, or the discontinued but still robust FreeS/WAN network encryption management system--which seem like no-brainers to include or at least mention.

I haven't even mentioned that the choice of spelling wardriving as WarDriving throughout the book is slightly distracting.

Other errors point to a potentially long genesis of the book, which may explain why it feels outdate in parts but completely timely in others. On page 372, the WRT54G configuration is shown using firmware that's a year old, which is very strange given that that was a pre-certification 802.11g release, and didn't include WPA, either. The book covers NetStumbler's 0.4.0 release, which postdated release of the book.

I wanted to like or even love this book, but only parts of it are compelling. At fifty bucks, I'd rather buy a Wi-Fi card and spent my time researching configuration online.