But Officer, It’s Just a Can of Potato Chips!

Over the last few months, I have had some of my students share with me their frustration about how much there is to study and learn in their path to CCNA certification. As you know by now, much of the information we share in the ICND1 and ICND2 courses focuses on the basic functions of Cisco switches and routers, along with many of the fundamental configuration commands. Some have actually expressed a fear that CCNAs are nothing more that glorified clerk typists. Well, allow me to assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

In many of my posts I attempt to share with you the varied areas of the networking disciplines that a CCNA could find an interest in pursuing. And, you could find your ICND studies are a valuable key into each of those career tracks. As an analogy, I have found over the years that if you pursue a knowledge track, the experience is very much like handling a set of Russian Matryoshka dolls, or as they are commonly known, Russian nesting dolls. These clever carvings consist of a wooden figure, which can be pulled apart to reveal another figurine of the same sort inside. It, in turn, contains another one inside, and so on. The number of nested figures can be as few as three or as many as twenty.

Take, for instance, the subject of Wireless LAN Security that we address in ICND1. One bulleted item out of the entire course identifies War Drivers as “an attacker that just wants to gain Internet access for free and drives around trying to find Access Points (AP) that have either no security or weak security.” This item is an interesting fact, perhaps, but doesn’t necessarily seem to be the tip of an information iceberg. But actually, this is a key to a huge cache of fascinating study material.

As we know is the case with business networks, everyone wants wireless now for all of its mobility advantages. However, because of many issues – such as budget or cost – security has always been an afterthought. Recently, the US Secret Service agency (best known for protecting the President and chasing down counterfeiters) has started addressing what it calls one of the most overlooked threats to computer networks.

In the Washington DC area, hackers drive through (and actually even fly through) parts of the city and map areas with open, unsecured wireless networks. Then, these same hackers post the maps they create on the Internet to show others where they can get a free Internet connection on a private network. The act of War Driving has become so prevalent that enthusiasts are using chalk marks on streets and sidewalks to point out networks in public places. This process is known as “Warchalking.”

The Secret Service is using laptop computers and wireless antennas fashioned from a Pringles potato chip can looking for security holes in wireless networks in the Nation’s capital. The Pringles can functions as a resonant cavity antenna, provides gain to the system to help find weak signals and, of course, masks the purpose of a slow moving car.

However, laws change to keep up with the current technology. Recently, in a Midwest high school, a high-school student faced eight felony computer-theft charges for allegedly hacking into his school’s computer system and changing his grades. When police searched his home, they found aluminum-lined, cylindrical potato-chip containers that some hackers use as crude antennas to help them intercept wireless signals. You guessed it, a Pringles can and some hardware worth $5 to $10 can be used to amplify a wireless signal several miles away. “They’re unsophisticated but reliable, and it’s illegal to possess them,” said a member of the Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force.

As you can see, one bulleted item is like one doll out of the entire nested stack. Here, one bulleted sentence from the entire ICND1 course has been the single key that has led to these channels of information. If I have piqued your interest, you can Google “Pringles Can Antenna” and you will find a minimum of 10,200 listings.

By the way, as an aside, the Pringles manufacturer Procter and Gamble, in an effort to avoid the UK’s tax on potato chips, went to court to argue the tube-dwelling snacks were actually more like cakes or biscuits. And, it turns out that Pringles aren’t even made of potatoes, they are actually made of dough! The court agreed, and now it is official in the UK, Pringles are not potato chips. However, the cans are still excellent antennas.

Author: David Stahl

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1 comment

  1. Keith Parsons Reply

    You are sooooo wrong.

    The Pringles Can antennas are NOT illegal – what where you thinking of?

    The aluminum foil lining of the Pringles Can has absolutely nothing to do with the RF characteristics. The actual antenna inside is a circular Yagi antenna.

    The ‘can’ part is to just provide protection for the actual antenna components inside.

    These antenna’s are NOT all that good.

    You are about 5 years too late on this story!