updated 3/22/2012 3:23:07 PM ET 2012-03-22T19:23:07

Taking a page out of the cybercriminal handbook, Australian cops are now hitting the streets to sniff out insecure Wi-Fi networks. Unlike high-tech cruising cybercrooks, the cops are hoping to prevent identity theft and bolster their neighborhoods' online safety.

In its " War Driving Project," the Queensland Police Service will conduct "proactive patrols" of residential and commercial areas within the greater Brisbane area to identity Wi-Fi connections that are unprotected and leave their owners vulnerable.

"These people may as well put their bank account details, passwords and personal details on a billboard on the side of a highway," the Queensland police said in its press release today (March 22).

[Wardriving and Your Internet Security]

The term "war driving" comes from the 1983 movie "WarGames," in which a hacker played by Matthew Broderick "war-dials" hundreds of phone numbers in an effort to find a modem.

Queensland Detective Superintendent Brian Hay said the war driving project is a necessary step to protect citizens from their own weak Internet networks.

"Unprotected or unsecured networks are easy to infiltrate and hack," Hay said. "Criminals can then either take over the connection and commit fraud online or steal the personal details of the owner. This is definitely the next step in identity fraud."

Hay's vision of the future of cybercrime already exists. In January 2011, Seattle police arrested two men for allegedly stealing $750,000 worth of computer servers. Looking into the suspects' past, police discovered the two men had turned their car, a black 1988 Mercedes-Benz sedan, into a hacking lab on wheels, rigging it with laptops and long-range antennae. The alleged crooks may have begun their war driving operation  as far back as May 2006.

The Auastralian war driving cop cars will look especially for open wireless access points, or ones using outdated WEP encryption (Wired Equivalent Privacy). Hay said WEP "is like using a closed screen door as your sole means of security at home."

When they detect a Wi-Fi network in need of additional security, the cops will mail a letter to the affected residents and businesses informing them how to better secure their connections.

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