Kevin Remde's IT Pro Weblog


Wireless Bozo

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I was just catching up on some IT news, and came across this AP article about the guy in St. Petersburg, FL who was arrested for using someone else’s wireless network.  In a nutshell, the guy (Ben Smith) sat in his SUV outside someone’s home, with his laptop, and used their unsecured wireless network.

My question is: Who is really the criminal here?

Yes… the owner of the wireless access point, who also paid for his own Internet connection, is right to want to keep others off of his network.  …let alone wonder about the stranger sitting in the car out front of his house with the strange glow coming from his lap.  But…

Are you on my network?

C’mon now, bozo!  It’s not that hard to enable basic encryption and protection of your wireless network!  If you don’t want someone using it, then take the extra 5 minutes to understand the clear instructions your wireless access point manufacturer gave you to turn on WEP.  It’s not Rocket Surgery.

“But Kevin… Shouldn’t we have laws against unauthorized network access?”

My opinion: Yes.  And no!  (wishy-washy?  Yep)  Okay… yes it’s not right that the guy used someone’s network and Internet access without permission.  However, one could argue that the very presense of unencrypted wireless access makes it fair game.  Perhaps what we need are laws that say that if it’s in the air, and unencrypted, then it’s assumed to be in the public domain. 

What do you think?  If you were the judge or jury here, what would you decide?

  • I second your thoughts.

    The links below may help folks to configure security in their wireless network.

    Protect Yourself from WiFi Snoops

    ToDo: secure your wireless network

  • It is difficult *not to be* wishy washy. IMO, it comes down to intent. If somone is deliberately connecting to your network it is wrong - not "fair game." It would be stupid for someone to leave the front door to their house wide open too, but that doesn't make the house or the property within it "fair game." Same as if someone leaves their leaves their car running with the keys in the ignition and the door wide open. :-)

    At the same time, if someone accidentally connects, it's a non-issue based on intent. I've had to go out of my way to keep from connecting to my multiple WAPs around the house because of several of our neighbors. I'd hate to see some poor SOB convicted for that. :-)

  • Good resources and posts, guys.

    Sean - I like your open-house analogy. That fits very well.

    And to argue the other side for a bit: Intent is very hard to prove, isn't it? "I didn't know the gun was loaded", or "I didn't know that acting upon my broker's advice was going to land me, Martha Stewart, in jail".

    I think the state of technology and LAW now surrounding wireless access is really strange now. "I found a network that let me in, so I used it.", is quite a common notion. I don't think most people consider that wrong. Yes.. most people understand that you shouldn't park outside of someone's house just to use their network. But what if you're in a hotel? Or sitting in a coffee shop? Or an airport? You find a network, and it appears to let you have access. Will you use it? Is it wrong to use it?**

    **Don't even get me started on what risks you're taking without your firewall enabled, connecting to unknown networks... I never connect to any wireless network outside my home or office without first turning off exceptions in the Windows Firewall.

  • I look at it like when some one puts old furniture out on the curb in front of their house. If a second party drives up and loads the said furniture into their own vehicle and drives off, no one would expect criminal charges.

    My point is that it did not need to be explicitly stated that said furniture was either up for grabs or down for keeps.

    Same goes for your wireless connection. Lock it down people!

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