14ymedio, Havana, 11 October 2016 — “Be careful in wifi zones,” reads the most common warning seen in areas throughout the country where wireless navigation is enabled. The “explosion” of cellphones, laptops and tablets in these areas is accompanied by an increase in thefts from users accounts. A crime for which nine individuals in Villa Clara province will be tried.
An official note from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) published in the regional newspaper Vanguardia explains that the police “have broken up, this year, two criminal rings made up of nine citizens, most of them young people under 25 and without priors, dedicated to stealing cash from internet and Nauta email accounts, taking advantage of the expansion of wifi access.”
The two networks that loot users balances operate mainly in the cities of Remedios and Santa Clara, where “those involved were selling stolen hours at prices lower than the Telecommunications Company sells Nauta [internet navigation] cards.”
The note details that during the arrests of the accused authorities “seized the technical means employed, the authors confessed and the process of criminal investigation has been streamlined to put them before the courts and sanction them.”
MININT calls on people “to contribute to confronting these unscrupulous elements,” although it does not reveal the details of how they were able to loot people’s internet and phone card balances.
The practice of stealing the funds in Nauta internet service accounts has become more widespread in the last year and is based primarily on the insertion of a wireless signal that plagiarizes the original, adding a period, a script or a space to the name of the network that goes unnoticed by the client.
While the signal emitted by the ETECSA state nework is called WIFI_ETECSA, the pirate network might be named WIFI_ ETECSA_, or WIFI_ETECSA_ or WIFI_ETECSA_EXT among many other variants. The unwary users connect to it and the hacker takes advantage of that to collect their account information and use it themselves or transfer it to another user.
To extend the pirated signal in wifi areas they use wireless devices called nanostations – which are wireless routers. The stolen balances are resold to other internet users looking to pay a little less for an hour connecting to the great World Wide Web.
An hour of browsing through Nauta’s service connection costs 2 Cuban Convertible pesos (about $2 US), the equivalent of two days wages for a professional on the island, where monthly wages range generally between about 20 and 25 CUC.
In September of this year ETECSA announced that it has more than 200 wireless navigation areas across the country. Havana remains at the head of all provinces with 24 of these areas, followed by Pinar del Río and Granma, with 19 and 16 respectively.
However, critics do not stop complaining about the quality of the service provided, which suffers from frequent interruptions, congestion, high prices and many censored sites.