Thousands contact Eircom over 'internet hackers' fear
THOUSANDS of worried customers contacted Eircom yesterday after it emerged that their internet connections were vulnerable to hackers.
The company has now advised 250,000 of its customers to change the password on their wireless connections -- or face the threat of hackers exploiting their computers.
The account holders also risk illegal activity being traced back to them if the hackers use their computers for criminal pursuits.
The problem came to light with its Netopia Wireless modems, which can be hacked into from up to 30m (100ft) away, without the knowledge of the Eircom account-holder.
The company has stressed that it has not received any complaints from customers -- but has advised everyone to change the default password.
A spokesman said this can be easily done through its website. A free security package is also available for download to offer further protection.
"The login is the ID of the modem," he explained.
"But the 26 digit password is already set when you buy it. You need to change this to protect it."
If the system is hacked, it would allow other users to piggyback on a wireless connection. A flat rate is charged for most wireless connections but if customers download an excess amount of gigabytes each month, they are charged extra. A system which has been hacked could face extra charges -- and more significantly, any illegal activity would be tracked back to the account holder.
By early yesterday evening, Eircom had already received a 30pc increase in the numbers contacting their broadband support call centre, including some people asking for help to change their passwords. Extra staff were drafted in yesterday to cope with the expected surge in calls from worried customers.
Using wireless networks without permission is a criminal offence under the Criminal Damage Act 1991 and the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001.
Last night, Labour's spokesperson for communications, energy and natural resources, Liz McManus, urged Eircom to redouble its efforts to warn customers about the potential problem.
"It is extraordinary that Eircom only became aware of this when it was described on a post on the Boards.ie website. This raises serious questions surrounding Eircom's own system of security monitoring," she said.
"Eircom must ensure that all its 250,000 customers are notified and given clear instructions on how to protect their networks. Also, it must improve its own security monitoring so that its customers are not put at risk like this again in the future."
Although wireless thieves claim it is a victimless crime, the number of arrests for dishonestly obtaining free access under the Communications Act 2003 are rising in the UK.
In August, a 39-year-old man was arrested in London after he was spotted using his laptop while perched on a wall outside a home by two police community support officers.
The officers believed he was using the owner's unsecured wireless broadband connection without permission and he was arrested on suspicion of stealing the connection.