Free Internet: How Ugandans beat the telecoms lackluster internet security

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Geek week 2015 posts

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[/blockquote]It’s moments like these when we must face reality and admit the undeniable cravings that rule above us all. They come in many forms, and many of us will confess to the undeniable hunger for free internet. With more and more intelligent gadgets peskily making their way into our daily lives, like invasive greedy pets that just can’t be fed enough, we have been forced to yield to the hunger for free internet.

Obviously, the drama and means vary from person to person, but the end is the same. Frankly, the price of good internet in Uganda has driven us all at one point into some pretty dark places, stuff your mother wouldn’t be proud you did.

The Game of Proxies

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One genius, one day having yielded to the darkness turned his attention to proxies. A proxy is basically a server through which you can tunnel your requests, thereby bypassing the billed gateway enforced by telcos to charge you for internet. As history tells, he had quite a following to the point that telcos noticed a margin between the internet they gave and that which was paid for. At the time, our monumental victim was Orange Uganda (now Africell).

Sadly (for you) or fortunately (for them), they were able to avert this loophole. Even for pure, legitimate, educational (or any other noble excuse you can think of), it is difficult to successfully use a proxy on Africell Uganda’s network without having your service momentarily terminated.

I’d be wrong to say this was a complete success. After all, none of you find it strange at all that there’s chaps on Facebook advertising free unlimited internet at a fee– and it’s not just Africell; it’s various networks from Airtel, Vodafone and Smart Telecom. Evidently, some mad genius out there earns a living cracking into this security.

Like all shades away from white, there’s dark, and there’s black. The guys above shoot their arrows at the giants that can take the heat, and they get away for it, most of the time. There is a hack, a loophole remains open at gaping proportions in most networks. The worst part about this is, it does not harm the telcos as much as it harms you and me.

stock-photo-71677841-computer-hacker-stealing-information-with-laptopHow this potentially works

To understand the situation, we must first understand how networks work. A network usually requires a switch, router and a gateway to work. The switch and router work together to ensure communication across the network. Communication outside the network is managed by a gateway which in addition often functions as a firewall. Even your simple MiFi dongle or WiFi setup works this way. Telecom networks are not any different in regards to getting you connected to the internet. When an IP address is assigned to your device, it will usually show a badge with the network mode against your network bars. This can be observed from your phone and is true for also your modem when it dials up. Generally, telecom networks are able to charge you for internet by managing your ability to use their gateway. Sounds good so far? It better!

Now, here’s where the dramatic tune plays. A guy that knows what he is doing is able to change his gateway to any other device on the network. To any innocent faithfully paying customer, this could be your computer, your phone with a paid internet connection. When this happens, you become their window to the internet, and sadly, you get to pay for it.

Scary, right? But fear not. To do this, they would need to know your IP address (which changes dynamically every time you connect) and you’d have to be irresponsible enough to have setup your machine in a way that it can be used as a gateway (like most developers, System Admin alchemists and connectify users).

Although there are tools like nmap(pc) and fing (app) that can scan a network for potential victims, he’d have to pick your IP address from a sample space of up to 65023 addresses. You’d have to be either very unlucky or a carelessly and irresponsibly set up server.

If you have any more ideas, and also have the guts to share, please leave a comment below.


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