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War Dating

By Annalee Newitz

HUMANS MAY have waged war forever, but geeks have only done so since the 1980s. It started with telephones, of course. Back in the modem days, connection-hungry nerds with time on their hands engaged in war dialing. Using a program called a war dialer (OK, duh), you could automatically dial every single telephone number in your local area to find all the computer networks available. Then you'd connect to them and break into as many as you could.

Then, in the late 1990s, there was a revolution in geek warfare. We discovered war driving. This was in an era when people began setting up wireless networks willy-nilly, without any regard for their security. Nerds with big antennas would cruise around their cities, pointing their long silver directionals out the window of their cars at likely targets. Occasionally, the more fitness-minded would engage in war strolling.

When war drivers found a wireless network, they would write down where it was and post the information online for friends. Thus were stupid corporations and generous individuals able to share bandwidth with anyone who happened to be within range of their network. War driving was also popular with spammers, who would drive until they found an open network they could use to deliver slurries of "penis enlargement" emails.

Other variants on war dialing and driving are less glamorous but more deadly. There's a program called Crack that does something like war dialing on passwords. It tries every imaginable combination of letters and numbers in a given password field until it hits the right combination.

This is known as "brute forcing" a password. On a larger scale, people can brute force their way across the Internet using port scanners, programs that figure out whether a given computer is vulnerable to hacking or not.

The impetus behind geek warfare is different from that behind regular warfare. Geek war is all about making connections, whereas military war is about smashing them up. That's probably why the latest chapter in this little history is all about love.

Across the globe, geeks are engaging in war dating. The idea, says one Bay Area war dater, is to hack systems like Friendster, HotorNot and AIM chat so that you can meet the most babes possible with the greatest degree of success. He wrote a script that sniffs AIM logins on cafe wireless networks to create what he calls a "local-area social network."

"I did regular online dating with Craigslist and so forth," explained the AIM sniffing war dater, who preferred to remain anonymous. "But I wanted to optimize the experience. With the AIM sniffer, I can sit in a cafe, and if a cute girl cracks open her laptop and fires up AIM, I will see her login as it goes over the network. Then I can find her profile and send her a message." He said this method gave him "an 80 percent success rate in getting a first date."

Like some terrifying combination of war dialing and driving, war dating combines the "try every combination" approach with wireless hacking. Plus it serves as a reminder that wireless networks are so insecure that horny herds can hack them in a matter of minutes.

But for war daters, the whole point is building a fix for their geeky shyness. "I think geeks can take back the dating scene now," said a veteran war dater. "There are all these girls on the Internet, and they want to date geeks like us but they just don't know it."

A rather media-hyped version of war dating is "bluejacking," a technique by which you send instant messages to people who have devices that run Bluetooth, a short-range wireless protocol designed to create "personal-area networks." A lot of cell phones, computers and PDAs are Bluetooth enabled, and it's not very hard to get in range and send flirty text messages.

It seems to me that another form of war dating might be to date every single person in a given category on a dating site--you know, all the women who like UNIX or all the men who like bad science fiction movies. "I've never dated a girl who said she liked UNIX," admitted one war dater. Maybe that's because his search algorithm is designed to weed out anyone smart enough not to use AIM. Word to the wise: The hottest babes know how to lock down their machines.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who only dates babes who don't use AIM.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the December 18-24, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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