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"Knitted" Wi-Fi Routers Create Failover Network For First Responders 97

Posted by timothy
from the fire-department-do-you-read-me dept.
wiredmikey writes "Wireless Internet routers used in homes and offices could be knitted together to provide a communications system for emergency responders if the mobile phone network fails, German scientists reported on Monday. In many countries, routers are so commonplace that they could be used by police and fire departments if cell towers and networks are down or overwhelmed by people caught up in an emergency, they say. This rich density means that an emergency network could piggyback on nearby routers, giving first responders access to the Internet and contact with their headquarters. The researchers suggest that routers incorporate an emergency 'switch' that responders can activate to set up a backup network, thus giving them a voice and data link through the Internet. This could be done quite easily without impeding users or intruding on their privacy, the study argues. Many routers already have a 'guest' mode, meaning a supplementary channel that allows visitors to use a home's Wi-Fi." This is a cool angle on mesh networking — reminds me of the emergency response capabilities of ham radio; if it sounds intriguing, remember that even sparse networks can make use of this kind of networking with the right antennas. Related: even without touching the hardware on your router, you can do some meshing around with Byzantium.
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"Knitted" Wi-Fi Routers Create Failover Network For First Responders

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  • Cell Phone App? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is there a Cell Phone version? I mean, not everyone knows how to revamp their router, whereas everyone knows how to enable that "in case of an emergency" App. (For Mesh, not for using the cell network)

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      Just wait until it is built in by default on all future routers with no option to disable. Oh and using a router without the "emergency backdoor" will become illegal
      • not likely.

        as long as there is hardware that can send/receive wifi and run open source code, there's no way to fully lock down citizens' networks.

        and if you think you can lock us down, we'll create a dual infrastructure. give you access to the tcp:/dev/null device and you can 'connect' there all you damned want! have fun!

        but you are not getting any access to my network as far as I can help it.

        you have enough taxes: build your OWN damned secondary network! there's more than enough tax revenue to support w

        • by ganjadude (952775)
          oh I get all that from a technological standpoint. But what happens when they see a wifi network, cant log in, and than raid you for it?

          I know I am going WAY far, but the potential for abuse outweighs any benifit
    • See the Serval Mesh networking project.

      There's been a lot of work put into getting people to stop sharing their networks or using open networks so now a lot of people use passwords and WPA/WPA2 is commonplace.

      Mesh networking would now need to run alongside this way of doing things now, or at least have a switch for emergency use; not ideal.

    • The Serval Project [servalproject.org] is aiming to do exactly this (disclosure, I'm working for them ATM). Use the Wifi chip in android phones to create an adhoc network for situations where the phone network is down or non-existent. It's still alpha quality [google.com] at this point, but we're working on phone calls, text messaging and file distribution using strong cryptography, without any central administration or infrastructure. And we're planning to use our file distribution system for a bunch of other services like collaborative m
      • I should point out that adhoc mode on android is not supported and not well tested on most handsets. Our approach is based on a much earlier tethering application that requires root to reload the wifi driver and set it's mode. Some later versions of android though have explicitly disabled adhoc mode so even that approach wont work. However our software can also work when connected to an access point, and most phones allow the built in hotspot to be turned on, so you can still setup a network in an emergency
  • Potential for abuse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by na1led (1030470) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @12:22PM (#41069229)
    Once you let them have access to your network, they will rely on it more and more, till they saturate your network. Unless they want to pay for using my equipment and my service, I say no way!
    • by ArhcAngel (247594)
      But what if you got everyone on board and you could go anywhere in the world and have access to free WiFi? [fon.com]
    • Indeed. I am not sure that Wifi lends itself to topologies in the same way that wired networks do.

      The thought of taking a trip across 30 omni-directional routers fills me with a sense of horror for some reason.

  • Ah, typical Euro-centric thinking where they think because you live in Paris, you can just usurp free wifi because it's there. Never mind that it's on shared cable modem bandwidth and that typically bandwidth in Europe is shit. The ISM band is so saturated that you could charge your phone just through induction because to live there you're living 3-5 stacked on top of each other (in the city). So when the lights go out, so does the Wi-Fi network. If you were relying on the mobile network instead of dedi
  • Here in the UK, anywhere near a home network you'll also find that your mobile phone will detect BTOpenZone Wi-fi. As Wifi is relatively short range, it stands to reason that this "open zone" network is just piggybacking on the network wifi of their subscribers as it doesn't cost them anything but a bit of software inside home routers that they'd provide anyway.
    • by Soluzar (1957050)
      It only works on routers supplied by the BT Group to business customers, and can be disabled by the customer. In addition, some BT public phones (payphones) are part of the OpenZone WiFi network. You have to pay for access, and the speeds are pretty poor. Almost unusable for even the most basic of browsing in my experience.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @12:26PM (#41069277)
    I used to live next door to a public library that had free wifi. Guess where the safest spot in the neighborhood was on the graveyard shift? That's right - the library's parking lot. Without fail, almost every night, there would be a cruiser parked there with the two cops surfing the net. I guarantee you that this 'emergency switch' would just get used by cops to get free internet access where they're hidin...er, "patrolling".
    • by Nkwe (604125) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:38PM (#41070323)

      I used to live next door to a public library that had free wifi. Guess where the safest spot in the neighborhood was on the graveyard shift? That's right - the library's parking lot. Without fail, almost every night, there would be a cruiser parked there with the two cops surfing the net. I guarantee you that this 'emergency switch' would just get used by cops to get free internet access where they're hidin...er, "patrolling".

      If a cop or other "first responder" type wants to park on the street near my house and use my net connection, they are welcome to. Having a cop car parked on the street is a nice crime deterrent. Sure there are some bad cops out there, but they are the exception and not the rule, and even in the case of a bad cop - wouldn't you want them on "your side"?

      • The cops would be so busy fapping they would never notice your house being robbed.

        I'd like them there too. But I would get a long lens and collect me some blackmail information.

    • by antdude (79039)

      I wonder why the libraries don't turn off their wireless when they are closed.

  • Yeah, but the emergency switch would probably include some kind of extra functionality....like giving police the ability to monitor your network traffic, kill your network, or even just allow them to park outside your house and surf the net while eating donuts.
  • by heypete (60671) <pete@heypete.com> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @12:29PM (#41069319) Homepage

    Don't emergency services have their own dedicated communications networks?

    Sure, most police departments that I've seen use mobile data terminals for dispatching calls but the dispatcher, officer, and car itself still have two-way radios. They can still communicate among themselves and dispatch calls using radios, albeit slightly less efficiently than they can with mobile data terminals.

    In the US at least, emergency services have priority access to telecommunication networks like mobile and landline phone networks. So long as the network itself is intact (but merely overwhelmed by non-emergency calls) they will be able to get access.

    Why would any emergency service worth their salt even remotely consider using home networks, particularly with no assurance of service quality or availability?

    Lastly, what prevents bad guys from operating this "switch" to gain access to home networks? Even if they can't access the internal network itself, they'd be able to piggyback on the connection to browse the internet (likely for nefarious purposes if they're activating this sort of access switch).

    • by agizis (676060)
      Congress has been selling off the frequencies that were reserved for first responders and Federal users to the cell phone companies (see the 1800 MHz band, as an example). They don't really have these dedicated networks anymore. Most of what's left is narrowband (6.25KHz channels) that are of no use for data.
      • So introduce them to the concept of a directional antenna. When paired up with 802.11n, it can exceed the distance of fiber without a repeater.

        But then they'd need to tech emergency personnel how to use a directional antenna...which depending on the person, might not be worth the hassle.

      • by heypete (60671)

        What I meant by "dedicated communications networks" was "radios used only by emergency services for voice", in that they weren't using public mobile phone bands for police radios but rather had their own radio infrastructure. I apologize for the lack of clarity.

        My point was that data networks may make things a bit more efficient, particularly with routine stuff like dispatching resources, looking up license plates, etc., all of that can be done over voice radios. Most of the police departments I'm familiar

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      yeah.
      http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/BOSNET [wikipedia.org] the german authorities cell network.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VIRVE [wikipedia.org] the finnish authorities network(both are tetra based and this one has an english article..).

      idea of piggybacking on everybodys routers isn't new but it's not that good idea, especially in emergency services. the emergency networks already are separate from the consumer cell networks for a reason. and if you were to actually mandate this through.. oh boy the potential for abuse. might as well jus

  • Hell no ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @12:30PM (#41069331) Homepage

    This rich density means that an emergency network could piggyback on nearby routers, giving first responders access to the Internet and contact with their headquarters. The researchers suggest that routers incorporate an emergency 'switch' that responders can activate to set up a backup network, thus giving them a voice and data link through the Internet

    As soon as some well meaning person starts suggesting this be built into routers, this opens you up for another vector to be hacked.

    If the routers have such a switch, it won't be long before someone else figures out how to enable it, and essentially turn your router over to them. And, for those of us whose internet usage is metered, we'd end up paying for this.

    This is just a big giant back door which is screaming to be abused.

    This is one of those ideas which sounds kind of nice on the surface, but which would be fraught with really bad implementations and unintended consequences. This researcher is kind of like people who try to pass laws around technology, and utterly fail to comprehend the other related issues.

    You may not open up a communications channel on something I'm legally liable for without my permission. In many places, that is illegal.

    • If the routers have such a switch, it won't be long before someone else figures out how to enable it[...]

      Most likely it will be a phone call: "Hello, this is Sam from your ISP, we're having some trouble with your connection, could you follow some troubleshooting steps for me?..."

    • As soon as some well meaning person starts suggesting this be built into routers, this opens you up for another vector to be hacked.

      I think what really needs to happen is that the switch LITERALLY be a hardware switch. You, as the owner of the router and user of the network, should be allowed to decide whether you want to turn it on or not.

      I would seriously be happy to open up another "vector to be hacked" to do good, in spite of the potential for abuse by hacker and, yes, first responders alike

      Of course, I'm a volunteer firefighter and EMT, so I guess the "specter" of a hacking attack vector kinda pales in my mind to the specter of bur

      • Unfortunately, your computer is being bombarded by remote attackers, while the likelihood that your residence is about to "burst into flames" is pretty remote. A couple of years ago, it was estimated that the Time to Survive for an unpatched Windows machine [sans.edu] was about four minutes. Yes, four. The specter of network hacking attempts is orders of magnitude larger than you think it is.
        • I'm sorry. I was talking about MY LIFE being more valuable than anything on your computer. Give me your address, though, and I'll be sure to let the first responders in your community know that--in your house--you'd prefer they follow the "Property and THEN life" motto, contrary to everywhere else in the free world.

          I'm certain they'll be fine with searching for your computer first and then your wife and kids.

        • ...and I now COMPLETELY understand why volunteer rates across the country are dropping so substantially. Your data is more important than my personal safety. Wow.
          • You should not try to put words in people's mouths. Your personal safety is important to me, but I am not responsible for it. You are the one who signed up for the dangerous volunteer work. I never did understand why anyone would do that... it seems a lot to expect of anyone. I wouldn't if I were you and besides... it's BECAUSE people volunteer that communities get away with not paying a fire department. This is not to say I don't appreciate that people volunteer for fire fighting services, quite the contra

          • No, my freedom and my privacy are more important (to me) than your safety. Similarly, I fully expect you to be responsible for your own safety, just like I am for mine. And to quote Ben Franklin - "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
            • You guys need to re-read what I said. I suggested that a hardware switch be placed on routers that ALLOWS--at the router owner's discretion--first responders to make use of the equipment in emergency services. I did not say anything about forcing anyone to give up their liberty, etc.

              • No I read it, and it's a classic slippery-slope scenario. Goes something like this:
                - "think-of-the-chldren/policemen/firemen/etc" feature is included on your wireless access point
                - coverage is spotty and unreliable; nobody uses it
                - politicians mandate feature in all routers to improve coverage (after all, it helps the poor [group])
                - end users leave the switch off; nobody uses the spotty system
                - politicians mandate the switch ship from the factory in the "on" positon
                - end users turn the switch off; no
                • LOL. I thought *I* was a Libertarian. I get your slippery slope argument. But saying that a volunteer firefighter, for example, may park in my driveway while he's across the street putting out the fire in my neighbor's house or rescuing a cat from the tree is not a "slippery slope" to allowing police to search my house whenever they want to. Is it? And if it is, surely there's a better place to draw the line.
                  • It's not a political position, but rather one based on experience. Several years ago, I ended up helping a young lady who had been attacked by her boyfriend. I called for an ambulance, and the EMTs promptly called the police. Once the cops arrived, I became the focus of their attention. It didn't matter that both she and I were telling them the same story. They detained me. They searched my home. They questioned me for over an hour. They used my home to treat her on site (i.e. that's the part where
  • IMO, cops don't count as emergency responders, as they pretty much always show up far too late to be of any assistance. Plus, (and this pretty much goes without saying) cops cannot, repeat, cannot be trusted with access to the devices and networks of private citizens - they will abuse the privilege, guaranteed.

    I don't have a problem allowing EMT's and firefighters to piggyback off my system (with explicit, incidental permission of course), but LEO's can suck hind teet.
    • the very LAST class of people I would give access to my network are cops.

      you reap what you sow. and you folks who are part of the 'blue line' don't deserve any favors from citizens. you are not our friends. you stopped being ou friends when you went wholsale corrupt and militarized yourself.

  • We could always tell the govt granted monopoly cable isps they need to install a first responder only wifi hotspot at every node... but sure lets burden the public to give up their privacy and security in the name of emergency communication failover, and burden device manufacturers with building these backdoors even if that means they cant sell them in other markets...
    • oh good while we are at it we could also provide free public wifi at them maybe free pubic cell signal. But more likely these would be used as listening posts used to log any wifi signals they can pickup to of course be only used if a crime has been committed really they would never ever dream of trying to use them with something like aircrack and break all of the keys on nearby wifi hotspots and actively listen in in on all your traffic.

  • In other news... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Malluck (413074) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:13PM (#41069945)

    A new study has shown that saws are so common place they could be used by lumberjacks in case of emergancy situations. The report suggest putting lumberjack accessable doors on all tool sheds.

  • Everyone gets excited about using the latest, greatest shiny expensive box to buy so they can play at being police dispatchers, and nobody actually does any radio.

    Keep emcomm off the amateur bands. Let them stick to the frequencies allocated to blue-light services, or mobile phones if necessary.

  • Edge case (Score:4, Informative)

    by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @01:26PM (#41070153)
    An emergency that takes out cell phone towers / antennas, but leaves the electrical power infrastructure intact to power said routers? Sounds like a rare emergency indeed. I suppose if all your electrics are subterranean, maybe a wind storm sans water would fall into this category. Maybe.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      a riot could easily bring enough people into an area that the cellphone network is too congested to use.
      however, the riot police wouldn't be using that network in the first place(they got their own separate networks).

      the article is totally pointless, even more so if you've heard of fonera.

      I wouldn't be so hasty to call walking around a city with android phone logging wifi ap's science though...

    • by westlake (615356)

      An emergency that takes out cell phone towers / antennas, but leaves the electrical power infrastructure intact to power said routers

      Not to mention cable and copper. The land lines.

  • and use a mesh network of small wireless switches with the capability of bypassing the main cell switches if necessary? Wouldn't that solve their capacity problem AND provide emergency networks as part of the bargain? Am I missing something or are they?

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      and use a mesh network of small wireless switches with the capability of bypassing the main cell switches if necessary? Wouldn't that solve their capacity problem AND provide emergency networks as part of the bargain? Am I missing something or are they?

      dude, artificial scarcity is how they can keep a transfer limit on your "mobile broadband" and still ask 80 bucks a month for it. just rolling out the network properly would always be cheaper than building microcells or a mess of wifi hotspots, but if they did that and their competitors did that then suddenly you'd be paying just 10 bucks for 3g connection on which you could torrent entire simpsons catalogue within a week if you wished..

      the idea isn't new, it's just not very good idea. a better idea is a se

  • You can't make a mesh network when the power goes out and the power always goes out in an emergency.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      You can't make a mesh network when the power goes out and the power always goes out in an emergency.

      That's a great point, it's a good reason why we need mesh networking in tomato or dd-wrt or openwrt, and I don't mean WDS. Low-power devices are needed to make the creation of mesh nodes cost-effective. I got 2x10W and 1x5W solar panels at a yard sale for twenty bucks, I had to solder some new leads onto the 10W panels but big whoop. Or you can buy 3x15W from harbor freight quite reasonably, I have a kit already. I have about five APs with external antennas that are linux-based. For just a couple hundred bu

  • So you want to help them (Big Brother) spy on you even more than they already are?
    Nothing is what it seems, think (we are only killing you for your own good), as a simile.

  • by Kaptain Kruton (854928) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @03:39PM (#41072397)

    Besides the obvious tin-foil hat, privacy, and security concerns that people are going to mention, the people that created this idea overlook something fairly important. In my area, if something was severe enough to knock out all of the cell phone towers within range of a cell phone, then the power grid and/or internet connections are almost certainly down in that area. Without power, the routers are not going to be on. The Internet connection may or may not be important, depending on how they want the communication to reach the headquarters.. if they intend on using voip over the Internet from the router, then it will fail. These concerns may or may not be an issue in other areas. In large cities, cellphone towers may be overworked in an emergency... but the likelihood of the towers in my area becoming overworked is quite small.

    I think the better idea would be to either find a way to give first-responder/emergency workers a way to gain priority on the towers, instead forcing router manufacturers to waste time and money to incorporate something that will not only be fairly useless in most cases, but will also open a number of other concerns.

  • The cops and firefighters have their own dedicated coms. So why do they need another? Citizens, however, do need an emergency system if the government decides it wants to begin censoring communications, monitoring them, or shutting them down. Having a mesh network that could spontaneously form would be especially useful in that case. Rather makes the prospect of cops being able to confiscate cameras and other devices recording their misconduct rather futile, doesn't it? As in, sure, take the guy in the

  • The range of wifi is usually less than 100 meters, so to send a message across town it would have to go through hundreds of routers. Wouldn't that create enormous latency for things like voice? Sending messages would of course be perfectly possible, but something like a phone call would seem wildly optimistic. Or am I completely wrong?

  • by LodCrappo (705968) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @06:31PM (#41074839) Homepage

    with specialized antennas, routers, and the additional transmitter power allowed by a ham radio license it is possible to quickly create a mesh network in the event of an emergency. http://hsmm-mesh.org/ [hsmm-mesh.org]

    there are also the data services provided by d-star, and much of our country is already covered by dstar repeaters, many with backup power etc. i have heard of some joint operation with first responders using these.

    failing data, there is always the worldwide and local voice communication network provided by hams in times of emergency.

  • This is wierd. Not the concept, after all this has been around for a while.
    The idea that to make a windows version costs $50K but a mac version costs $1,750K according to their kickstarter.

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