Google's Wi-Fi sniffing should be the least of our worries

Politicians should tackle cyber crime, Internet security, or e-voting instead of wasting time on Google

Add Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to the list of politicians out there who are shocked -- shocked! -- by the now-stale revelation that Google inadvertently scooped up snippets of unsecured Wi-Fi payload data while collecting Street View images. Blumenthal -- who happens to be running for re-election this year -- wants to lead a multistate investigation of Google's deed, no doubt to create the illusion that lawmakers are actively protecting companies and citizens from cyber criminals.

Fighting cyber crime and making the Internet safer is an important cause, no question. But the fact that politicians are hell-bent on dog-piling on Google -- which has been entirely forthcoming and cooperative, and has helped reveal just how insecure people's data really is -- indicates to me how skewed our elected officials' priorities are. I can't say if it's matter of utter cluelessness or of choosing the battles that are easiest to win, but there are far more important issues for Blumenthal and company to tackle.

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Examples? Why certainly. How about going after the real cyber criminals, the organized syndicates that cause millions of dollars in damage every day by stealing identities and bilking financial companies? I wonder if Blumenthal has heard of an organization called the Russian Business Network (RBN). The group offers Web hosting services and Internet access to parties that engage in a motley of criminal and objectionable activities, with individual activities earning up to $150 million annually, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Personally, I'm more worried about a cyber thug secretly getting a hold of my Social Security number than Google telling me that it grabbed 5 seconds' worth of data I sent via the unsecure Wi-Fi connection at the coffee shop down the block.

There's also the wider threat of Internet insecurity as a whole. InfoWorld security guru Roger Grimes proclaims that we have the technology and means to secure the Internet today if only we could get the right parties to the table. Politicians are among the necessary party members. Is anyone going to step up?

Perhaps taking on broad Internet security or fighting organized cyber criminals is too tough, as they both require actions beyond U.S. soil. Then how about pouring some serious resources into looking at e-voting instead of the witch hunt against Google? There've been reports of e-voting problems since the 2000 presidential elections. A decade later, problems continue to linger, effectively undermining the process upon which our democracy depends.

Most recently is the bizarre case of an unemployed, near-penniless man named Alvin Greene winning the South Carolina Democratic primary for Senate. Theories abound as to how Greene -- who held no rallies, raised no money, and got no publicity -- decisively beat out his opponent. According to reports, there was a striking disparity between the percentage of absentee votes he received versus the percentage of votes cast in his favor on Election Day. The former were mailed in, of course, and have a paper trail. The latter were cast on touchscreen machines that leave no paper trail.

Yes, Google made a mistake, but it's already come out with its hands up, and it's cooperating with authorities around the globe. Moreover, I'm willing to wager that the damage caused by Google's Wi-Fi sniffing is infinitesimal -- except, perhaps, causing a jolt of fear in people with the realization that an insecure Wi-Fi connection is, gasp, insecure! I can appreciate the need for an investigation of some kind against Google, but certainly not at the scale some elected officials seem to be advocating. There are much bigger cyber fish to fry.

This article, "Google's Wi-Fi sniffing should be the least of our worries," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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