Getting free access to communication services was always one of the primary hacking activities, still is. The recent proliferation of commercial Wi-Fi hotspot networks made them one of the prime targets. Stealing somebody's access by cloning a MAC address or performing a man-in-the-middle attack are well-known techniques. But if there is nobody in the area whose connection is available for stealing?
Nokia to the resque. In some countries (Australia, Indonesia, maybe more) Nokia teamed up with local operators of Wi-Fi hotspot networks to provide free Wi-Fi Internet access to the owners of Nokia N-Series multimedia devices. In Australia, their partner is Azure. The service is available in many locations in Melbourne CBD and also blankets the fun part of Chapel Street in South Yarra - if you're visiting, don't miss the place.
From a user's perspective, the service is same as with any other commercial hotspot - you find the network, associate to Azure, browse anywhere with your Web browser, and you'll be sent to the provider's captive portal. Then you'll see the difference - a "free access for Nokia N series" pictogram. Click on it, and you're logged on. Can browse Internet and place Internet calls with built-in SIP client.
So where's free access in this scenario? Simply put, the provider's authorisation system (that includes the captive portal and some kind of backend) has no way of knowing that I'm using the N Series. I don't know what kind of basic check is conducted by the server - can't figure anything but the MAC address first octets verification - but the onus is basically on me. The good news is that Nokia's product line is great. It gives Mac OS- and Windows-based telephones tun for the money. Symbian OS interface and applications are great, features that inclide full VoIP support (both standards-based and Skype), full support for secure wireless (including support for PEAPv0 that many Windows-centric corporate networks are using - not available in Windows Mobile yet). Prudly proprietary. Free Wi-Fi is a welcome bonus - and a chance to feel like hacker once more.
Other recent observations include some news about Bill Gates. I think BillG isn't @microsoft.com any longer. I mean, the account. End of the era, beggining of another one. Good luck and thanks to Bill.