Renderlab: Dealing with the media v0.1

On occasion you might find yourself dealing with reporters and the media. Sadly, for hackers, dealing with the media is like trying to pull teeth. The media for many years has had a truely negative view of us, perpetuated by Hollywood and used as a sales tool by 'security experts'. Changing these perceptions in the media and in the public is the primary focus of

This guide is for anyone who finds themselves dealing with media relating to their activities in wardriving and other hacker projects in general. It's written from my experience dealing with media which has been generally positive. It may not be the same for you in your area, but alot of these items are universal.

Step 1: Initial contact, wardriver initiated

For whatever reason you may have, you may find yourself needing to establish contact with reporters. It may be to refute a bad story, or an olive branch for you to have them establish wardrivers as the good guys before they get a chance to make us look bad.

When contacting reporters, you must remember that they follow the idea of 'if it bleeds it leads'. They are looking for an angle that will hold the viewers attention long enough to get them to the next commercial. When approaching them, you have to get their attention, but be very careful not to get sensational for then you become part of the problem. From experience, email is the best way to initiate contact. Usually dropping them an email explaining what you do, and that you are trying to let the public know this and need their help. Attaching a map of the local area and an explanation of the data will really grab their attention. Including 3 valid links to wardriving sites will help to verify your claims (,, and are good ones to include). Attaching a cell number will allow them a quick response, because when a reporter gets wind of a story, they move quickly.

Press releases are a strange thing. They tend to be a bit scattered in their recipients. Personal experiences are mixed. At the start of WWWD1, myself and an associate sent out a press release about what we were doing to many media outlets, with the hope of generating some publicity to get the word out about security. Getting the information our is one of the goals of the WWWD. However, we got more attention than we expected. CSIS, The Canadian Intelligence Agency, got a hold of the press release and issued a confidential 'security bulletin' about our activities. While this did get the word about security out to many gov't agencies that sorely needed it, it put me and my associate in a rather unenviable position as the subjects of the brief. Your press release mileage may vary; just remember that people you don't expect might be reading it too!

When speaking to reporters, do your best to come across clearly and avoid using slang, too many acronyms or other industry terms. This can scare people off. On the same token, don't get too simplistic either and insult peoples intelligence.

Step 1A: Initial contact, reporter initiated

You may find yourself in the position of being contacted by the reporter. Hopefully it's from a link off the site, or some other site that has you as the local authority on wardriving and not just as some random person.

Be prepared ahead of time to speak to reporters cold calling (hopefully you will be if your reading this ahead of time) because, as I said, they move quickly. When your contacting them by email, you have time to craft your words. With a phone call, you can be quoted from the word 'Hello'.

Step 2: Initial interview

After establishing contact with a reporter, the initial interview starts. Usually the reporter has no clue about what wardriving is, except for some snippet of information they have that put them onto the topic in the first place. How you answer the first few questions can set the whole tone for the article. They will usually ask 'What is wardriving' or some variation of that question. A bad response would be 'Driving around looking for wireless networks'. This does not quantify wardriving as a different activity than someone looking to commit computer trespass. A better statement would be: 'Wardriving is the benign act of locating and mapping wireless access points while in motion'. A statement like this is hard to twist; the previous one could mean that your looking for things on the network. Indicating your looking for just the access points themselves sounds like you don't care about what they are hooked too (A real stretch of words I know, but reporters can be very tricky).

Reporters will always ask 'Why do you do it'. Your reasons are your own so I'm not going to tell you what to say. Everyone starts differently, but it usually involves sheer curiosity and no intention of malice. Remember that you are representing the community at large, so saying that you use it to get free Internet access (not that you should be, read the stumbler ethics) would most defiantly not be constructive. In fact, statements like that are counter to what we are trying to accomplish and may get you into trouble with law enforcement.

Reporters have an interesting trick to getting what they want. In order to get good sound bytes and good quotes, they will often craft a statement and just get you to agree or disagree to it. Usually it's something like 'So you drive around at night, find these networks and check their security, isn't that right', expecting you to say 'yes', but keep in mind that there is no explanation as to *how* your checking security. This is the boogyman angle they love to hype. When a reporter asks you a question, use complete statements. A good response to the above would be: 'I drive around at night because I work during the day. I use my gear to listen for the signals these units give out and only log what they are designed to tell anyone one in range; Network name, security status, and a few other bits of information as well as the location I detected these signals'.

Step 3: The ride along

Reporters, depending on the length of the story, will sometimes request ride alongs. If your acceptable too it, I do recommend it. The ride along gives you human contact with the reporter and a chance to show them the 'bigger issue' angle they could use, as well as gives you a chance to educate them further.

Taking a reporter out to a wirelessly crowded area (usually office towers or industrial parks) and pointing out companies that are vulnerable can really open eyes. My favorite is taking a scenic drive through the grounds of the provincial legislature, which happens to be nothing but gov't offices surrounding and gets a number of hits. I point out that the insecure AP's could be possible attack vectors into gov't networks, and that obviously, any policies they have in place for wireless security are obviously not being followed. Pointing out the emperor has no clothes and that you are trying to make things better makes you out to be the hero, making it increasingly hard for them to make you the bad guy, and diverts attention to the bad security of others.

At no point should you EVER connect to any network you find. Taking the advance step of disabling TCP/IP stacks and client managers should be something you do anyways. Reporters will usually ask you to connect to show them it can be done. I have pissed off many reporters by standing by my ethics and not connecting, no matter how much they beg. Remember, it's just not irresponsible, It's a felony! On occasion I have driven to my home and shown them that I can connect to my own network from a distance, going through the usual motions of connecting and then saying something like 'this is how easy it is for anyone with wi-fi gear to connect: It was designed this way!'. It makes the point and keeps you legal.

A few things to remember if you do a ride along are as follows. If they want pictures, wash your car please. It might sound odd, but we are trying to project a positive image. Cola cans and snack wrappers rolling around on the floor and an inch of dirt in the wheel well don't help. There's no problem with a vehicle like that for yourself (I'm guilty of it myself), but for pictures it's nice to have a shiny vehicle. It's also a courtesy to the reporter as well.

Dress nicely. This does not mean suit and tie. I have given interviews in my signature black fedora, cargo pants, black steel toe boots and a 'wardriving is not a crime' shirt. Everything was clean though and did look respectable, though excentric. Just make sure your mom would approve of seeing you on TV the way you appear. Ratty jeans, grateful dead t-shirt and sandals in January, though comfortable, don't get much respect (sadly).

Step 4: Final notes

From the very beginning, be suspicious of the reporter and their motivations. They may seem nice and helpful, but mind the questions they ask. Depending on their preconceived notions about wardriving, they usually have the wardriver (you) already cast as good guy or bad guy. Their line of questioning will usually confirm which they think you are. Do all that you can to steer them towards the good by constantly reiterating that these security problems can be solved with a little education, and that your helping to do that. Degenerating into 'worst case scenario' and scare tactics to sell product don't help. Showing the problem is one thing. Showing the solution is cheap and easy, now that's newsworthy.

Avoid using any nicknames exclusively if you can. Using your real name deflates some of the mystique associated with our community, and humanizes you for the interview (they won't think of you as some un-earthly malevolent entity, but as a human being) which hopefully rubs off on the public. Many in the community have spouses and kids, something alot of the reporters and public have never thought of that can help humanize you..

Experience shows that articles beget articles. A single magazine article can spark a host of media attention. Reporters aren't very creative, they look at what everyone else is reporting and try to report about the same thing, but might look for a local angle or a 'bigger picture'. One newspaper can pick up a story and if it hits the news wires, reporters all over the place will be looking to reprint that article after massaging it enough to make it their own. If you choose to deal with media, remember that it can get very hectic, but don't let them run things or disrupt your life.

Above all, do not feel obligated to do any interviews you don't want too. Feel very free to tell a reporter to get stuffed, especially if they have a habit of sensational articles. Try and educate them, but if their minds are made up (in the negative), don't do the interview. 5 minutes of the initial interview will usually tell you what you need to know. They will most likely find someone else to tell them what they want to hear, but at least you won't have had your name smeared because of it. If the article was as bad as you thought, let them know, let their boss know, let everyone know. You now have the right.


This article is from my experience. I've never had a bad article written about me, or one that I was involved in. Thats not to say that I don't regret some statements, or felt the tone could have been better, but I have not felt like slashing the reporters tires after any of them. Only one was of any negativity and it was by a gentleman who met me very briefly when I informed his IT guy of an open AP. His article basically said: 'Yes he provided an invaluable service, but I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop because I can't belive anyone willingly help a business and not try to charge for it'. We'll see if I ever help him again.

Hopefully you can learn from this guide and in turn, represent the wardriving community well and retard the negativity that is being heaped upon us.

Last updated: 12/10/03

This Guide also available at The Church Of Wifi

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