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Confessions of a Wi-Fi Thief

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the is-that-a-bandwidth-in-your-pocket dept.

Wireless Networking 849

Michelle Shildkret from Time wrote in to tell us about a story about "the ethics of stealing Wi-Fi. Many of us been guilty of the same crime at one point or another — according to the article, 53% of us at least. But how guilty do we really feel? As it is officially a crime to steal wi-fi (Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code, which covers anybody who 'intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access')."

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Not a thief (5, Insightful)

xtracto (837672) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856269)

"intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access")."

Then, I have never stolen WiFi. I have never accessed without authorization; as I have never cracked a WEP or WPA password scheme.

Everytime I use an available wireless network, I instruct my computer to ask for permission to connect to the router and enter to the wireless network. And most of the time the router gives me such permit and assigns my router an IP. When it does not happen, then I assume the owner has instructed the router to give permission to specific machines (as in, machines with a specific MAC adddress) and hence I do not use such networks.

Seriously, someone must create an interface in which a person is able to send the commands manually to the router (like the AT commants in a modem) to ask for connection permission (i.e., DHCP protocol). That way, when you are in court, you could use that program along the court's wifi to show them how you are indeed asking for permission and the software is granting you the permission.

Re:Not a thief (5, Insightful)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856509)

Exactly the defense that anyone would should use. If the plaintiff says, "Well, I didn't explicitly grant you permission to use my network," then you can fire back, "You did when your router gave me explicit permission by assigning me an IP address and giving me a gateway by which I could access the Internet. Essentially, I asked if I could use the network, and, acting on your behalf since you set it up, it said I could when it gave me the information required to use the network."

Re:Not a thief (5, Funny)

e03179 (578506) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856653)

You did when your router gave me explicit permission by assigning me an IP address...
I am not a Wi-Fi hacker, but I'm pretty sure that humans don't get assigned IP addresses.

Re:Not a thief (5, Funny)

Bandman (86149) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856875)

I'm also pretty sure laptops don't get criminal trials

Re:Not a thief (4, Funny)

CogDissident (951207) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856883)

Sure they do, mr 57.85.0.6

Re:Not a thief (3, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857053)

Well, I sasked your door permission to open by turning the handle, and when it did, since it was unlocked, I entered your house while you were gone today.

Since nothing was bolted to your floor, I proceeded to help myself to your TV and associated A/V equipment, your PVR, your Playstation 3, and your Wii. Additionally, your study door similarly allowed me to enter your study, where I noticed some computer equipment that wasn't chained to the desk, so I left with that, too.

Since your doors granted me permission to enter your house, and they were acting on your behelf since they are on your house, you have no reason to complain.

Right?

Re:Not a thief (4, Interesting)

Jeppe Salvesen (101622) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857167)

I believe it is a lesser crime to enter without breaking in.

Now, if you use an open network, you only use bandwidth temporarily. If you leave the network, the bandwidth will still be there. So it's more like entering an unlocked house to take a sip from the faucet. The only crime committed is that you didn't pay for bottled water.

Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23857181)

Mod parent up beyond 5. It's not stealing wi-fi if you are assigned an IP address and allowed to access the Internet.

Re:Not a thief (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856543)

I go further. I only use access points which invite access by broadcasting a signal to all to say they are open for anybody who wants to use. If the access point is broadcasting a signal which says that it isn't open I don't use it, even if it's using an insecure system such as WEP which might reasonably be treated as an invitation to hack. Also, if there's no broadcast at all I don't attempt to scan for the access point at all.

This way I know that I'm only using access points which have been configured, either by their owner or manufacturer, for public access.

Re:Not a thief (5, Funny)

Bandman (86149) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856927)

If the access point is broadcasting a signal which says that it isn't open I don't use it, even if it's using an insecure system such as WEP which might reasonably be treated as an invitation to hack.

This is apparently some definition of the term "reasonably" of which I was previously unaware.

Re:Not a thief (5, Insightful)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856551)

Then, I have never stolen WiFi. I have never accessed without authorization; as I have never cracked a WEP or WPA password scheme.
That's the key to the whole debate. I've had a WiFi router at my home and various offices for years. If I enable features designed to limit access (MAC address checking, WEP/WPA encryption, etc) and someone tries to spoof and/or brute force their way into my network, that's theft of service and unauthorized access. If my router is set up for wide open access, I'm granting permission for anyone to use it.

In general, laws are designed to work like this: that which is not expressly forbidden is permitted. We're talking about radio waves here; before anyone starts up with some dumb analogy to parked cars and leaving the keys in them, consider this: when you use a resource I have made freely available, you're not denying me access to it. Someone might make the argument that excessive use of my resource would degrade its usefulness to the primary (owning) party, but that's easily remedied using simple protection schemes (either block access entirely, or throttle access to unauthenticated clients). I've done exactly this in numerous cases, using various router packages.

Here's a sad, but interesting article: Man charged with wireless trespassing [cnn.com] from July of 2005. To quote a section:

Wireless networks are becoming more prevalent with the spread of broadband Internet access, and many consumers are not aware of how to configure their networks to avoid unauthorized access.
This man was charged with a felony because the owner of the connection failed to educate himself on how to use a point and click interface to secure a home wireless router. Was he up to no good? Maybe, but we don't know for sure, and it's beside the point. If someone were to use my connection for criminal activities, it becomes my problem to prove it was the third party's actions, and not my own that led to the violation of law. He's "innocent until proven guilty" the same as I am. This is why companies (at least ones that aren't interested in getting sued) track their network access and provide authentication schemes.

Re:Not a thief (2, Insightful)

Cerberus7 (66071) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856559)

Does the law already consider an open, unencrypted network as implicitly giving permission, or is it written to say that if the person who owns that open, unencrypted network has not given permission then it's illegal?

What you say makes sense, but I don't expect the law to make sense.

Re:Not a thief - depends (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856659)

It depends from country to country:

  • In Singapore you can be arrested for using an open access point because it is not clear that it was set up for you to use.
  • In Germany you can be arrested for having an open access point because it is clear that you have set it up for others to use.

Ahh.. the logic of law.

Re:Not a thief (5, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856703)

Does the law already consider an open, unencrypted network as implicitly giving permission, or is it written to say that if the person who owns that open, unencrypted network has not given permission then it's illegal?

How does the law answer the same question about websites?

Re:Not a thief (3, Insightful)

bryce1012 (822567) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857079)

An excellent point, and it makes me wonder... Could that judge with all the "porn" on his "website" file criminal charges against whomever dug that stuff up? After all, I'm pretty sure he didn't explicity grant them permission.

Re:Not a thief (4, Insightful)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856745)

This is US -- we don't have real laws that get updated with precise description of what is and isn't a crime. "The law" is whatever the last time judge decided after hearing a shouting match between two attorneys.

Broadcast = Permission (5, Insightful)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856647)

Indeed. I don't know how the law is interpreted, but I cannot imagine how anyone who broadcasts an unencrypted radio signal can complain if someone else picks up that signal. It would be like a TV station claiming that you are stealing their content because you tuned into their channel.

You could say that a wifi router is different from TV because the activity is two-way: but the wifi router chooses to respond to me. If the owner of the router never bothered to tell their router not to respond to me, then is it my fault that it does? Am I guilty if my computer merely pings their router because it created a response on that router? They are the one who initiated the communication by broadcasting hello packets.

Re:Broadcast = Permission (5, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857155)

Am I guilty if my computer merely pings their router because it created a response on that router? They are the one who initiated the communication by broadcasting hello packets.

Complicating matters is that certain popular OSes (XP, I'm looking at you) tend to auto-connect to the strongest signal available, no matter how nicely you ask them to stop doing that. If you're closer to your next-door neighbor's WAP than your own, and Windows decides to use his without asking your permission or even telling you, then can you really be considered guilty of anything? And doesn't that mean that the world's largest OS vendor considers "default allow" to be the correct interpretation of WAP etiquette?

As little as I'm a fan of MS, I think "that's the way Windows does it automatically" would be a pretty good defense against criminal intent, even if a jury disagreed with the legality of the actions themselves.

Re:Not a thief (4, Insightful)

Animaether (411575) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856685)

"as I have never cracked a WEP or WPA password scheme"
Have you ever spoofed a MAC address?
Have you ever connected to an access point that did not broadcast its SSID?
Have you ever connected to an access point that says "private", "stay out", or otherwise?

If 'yes' to any of the above; I don't know about the U.S. law, but in The Netherlands you would still be guilty of "computerhuisvredebreuk"; meaning so much as tresspassing on a computer network

Then again, a great many people seem to think that even WEP encryption is an open invite to use the system, given the easy of cracking it.

Re:Not a thief (5, Insightful)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856829)

I've never done any of the things you describe, because I consider them to be highly unethical. In my mind, connecting to an unadvertised resource fails the ethics test because there's no way anyone could reasonably imply that consent was given.

Those who crack networks by breaking WEP, spoofing keys, or other measures should be held legally accountable. People who merely access an open, advertised resource shouldn't be at risk of going to prison.

Re:Not a thief (2, Insightful)

Bandman (86149) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856989)

I completely agree with your viewpoint.

I've never been one of those people who feels like an unlocked door is an invitation, but call me old fashioned.

Re:Not a thief (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856737)

Everytime I use an available wireless network, I instruct my computer to ask for permission to connect to the router and enter to the wireless network. And most of the time the router gives me such permit
Very good point, but what complicates it is: Does that router's giving you permission, reflect the owner's desire to make it open?

If every router owner knew how to open or lock down their access point, this issue would be open-and-shut. However, speaking from the experience as someone who set up a home wi-fi network, and someone who has some bizarre lifelong gravitation to the most poorly-designed aspects of products, my wi-fi kit didn't make it easy for me. The interface doesn't have anything that clearly leads me to "keep other people from using this", and you can damn well bet it's not the default. The help feature is barebones, as is the manual. (I use a linksys WRT ...)

Only by knowning, in advance, that my wi-fi point is open (not obvious to a novice), and that the "easy-lock" button or whatever, is necessary to put a password on my router, would I know what to do.

Ultimately, I agree that even with stupid router owners (like me before pulling teeth to figure all this out!) don't have a right to complain, but at the same time, companies that make these could be a little more helpful in telling you how to use all the features.

Re:Not a thief (1)

Slacksoft (1066064) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856899)

That would never work. First i doubt they'd let you use any computer if you're on trial for a computer related crime, second you're assuming the court even has wifi, and that the judges have the technological comprehension to understand. I think you'd have better luck pulling out a wand, calling yourself harry potter, and flail around saying you can send magic commands through the air to get into computers. I think that'd help on the insanity plea to get out of it. Either that or sue DHCP for insider trading...

In Germany, you are a thief (2, Informative)

Conley Index (957833) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856987)

Contrary to anything anticipated, a German court just ruled that someone did a criminal act connecting to an open wifi.

The DHCP package you take as an invitation was interpreted by the court as a telecommunication message not intended for the recipient and thus illegal to read.

Re:Not a thief (1)

BuhDuh (1102769) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857063)

The actual language is:

(2) intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains -
(A) information contained in a financial record of a financial institution, or of a card issuer as defined in section 1602(n) of title 15, or contained in a file of a consumer reporting agency on a consumer, as such terms are defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.);
(B) information from any department or agency of the United States; or
(C) information from any protected computer if the conduct involved an interstate or foreign communication;

To me it seems as if the end result of such access needs to be very specific for it to be an offense.

Re:Not a thief (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23857115)

Actually a simple tcpdump or wireshark session will show the DHCP packets.

Re:Not a thief (1)

interstellar_donkey (200782) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857121)

That's a very nice and pleasant way to look at it which absolves you of any bad feelings on the subject. But you know very well that the only reason the AP is open is because the owners don't know how to secure it.

While technically you could argue a case such as this, it's certainly a violation of the spirit of the law.

And, to look at it from another perspective, it's like saying "I drove by this house and saw the front door open. So I went inside and watched their cable TV. An open door implies permission"

Re:Not a thief (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23857171)

Everytime I use an available wireless network, I instruct my computer to ask for permission to connect to the router and enter to the wireless network. And most of the time the router gives me such permit and assigns my router an IP.
Yes, but if you were using a stolen WEP key, you could still say much the same thing. Your computer is still asking for permission, etc., etc.

The question should be: is the network intentionally left open? Or is it misconfigured? Unfortunately, it's usually impossible to tell.

It would be nice if the protocol designers had put in an explicit flag that could be used to advertise an intentionally open network. In the absence of such a flag, I think it's reasonable to assume that an unprotected network has been left open on purpose. But certainly I feel more comfortable about using someone's network if the SSID makes its status clear (e.g. SSID = Joes-Free-Wireless).

Absolutely (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857207)

The presence of an OPEN wi-fi network should (does) constitute "authorization".

no theft here (1, Redundant)

Telecommando (513768) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856311)

I don't access other computers, I only connect to access points.

Re:no theft here (3, Insightful)

KingArthur10 (679328) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856513)

Routers/Access Points are computing devices more sophisticated than the computers of the early 80s.

Re:no theft here (2, Insightful)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856555)

If your LinkSys router is running some flavor of Linux, is it not a computer? Even your microwave is a computer.

In this case, you aren't accessing the computer, you are communicating with it.....you are accessing the NETWORK without (human) permission.....which the law (as stated in the summary) doesn't cover that situation.

Layne

Re:no theft here (5, Funny)

nanop (155318) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856805)

We'll today'll be the last time I heat my burrito in the microwave in "Executives Only" lounge, lest I be charged under Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47...

Re:no theft here (2, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857125)

If your LinkSys router is running some flavor of Linux, is it not a computer? Even your microwave is a computer.
My microwave runs Linux? *stares at microwave in awe*

Re:no theft here (3, Insightful)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856945)

Your subject is correct, the summarry is wrong.

steal [reference.com]
      Audio Help /stil/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[steel] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation, verb, stole, stolen, stealing, noun
-verb (used with object)
1. to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, esp. secretly or by force: A pickpocket stole his watch.
2. to appropriate (ideas, credit, words, etc.) without right or acknowledgment.
3. to take, get, or win insidiously, surreptitiously, subtly, or by chance: He stole my girlfriend.
4. to move, bring, convey, or put secretly or quietly; smuggle (usually fol. by away, from, in, into, etc.): They stole the bicycle into the bedroom to surprise the child.
5. Baseball. (of a base runner) to gain (a base) without the help of a walk or batted ball, as by running to it during the delivery of a pitch.
6. Games. to gain (a point, advantage, etc.) by strategy, chance, or luck.
7. to gain or seize more than one's share of attention in, as by giving a superior performance: The comedian stole the show.
-verb (used without object)
8. to commit or practice theft.
9. to move, go, or come secretly, quietly, or unobserved: She stole out of the house at midnight.
10. to pass, happen, etc., imperceptibly, gently, or gradually: The years steal by.
11. Baseball. (of a base runner) to advance a base without the help of a walk or batted ball.
-noun
12. Informal. an act of stealing; theft.
13. Informal. the thing stolen; booty.
14. Informal. something acquired at a cost far below its real value; bargain: This dress is a steal at $40.
15. Baseball. the act of advancing a base by stealing.
--Idiom16. steal someone's thunder, to appropriate or use another's idea, plan, words, etc.

Accessing a hotspot without authorization may be a crime, but so is smoking pot. Is smoking marijuana "thieft"?

You are correct, TFS is wrong. If I steal your truck you don't have access to your truck. If I hide in its bed and ride downtown with you without your knowledge, it may be wrong and it may be illegal but I didn't steal anything.

Officially a crime? (3, Interesting)

skirmish666 (1287122) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856323)

Could you clarify, a wifi hotspot is classified as a computer? It's intentionally accessing a network for sure, but don't know about a computer.

Re:Officially a crime? (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856687)

It's a computer. Home networking appliances are simple devices compared to your desktop PC, but they're still computers. More sophisticated routers can be bought or built for cases where things like multiple authentication methods, traffic shaping, etc are needed. At the end of the day, they still perform the same basic functions as an el cheapo Linksys router.

Now, to make a simple analogy, if I leave a desktop computer running in the middle of the street, powered on and lacking any authentication mechanism, should I be able to throw a passerby in jail for using it to check his email?

Re:Officially a crime? (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857065)

I suppose it would depend on how literal the judge/jury were.

It's a computer. It's also a networking device.

short answer (1, Redundant)

tacokill (531275) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857087)

Routers are computers.

They have CPU's. They have memory. And they perform tasks....like routing packets, firewalling, stateful packet inspection, VPN server, etc.

In the ghetto (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856327)

Knee growes steal da wi-fi, yo! Word up.

I ain't a theif (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856365)

Since it says intentional, that means the fact that 30-50% of the time I connect to one of my many neighbors routers rather than my own, since I don't plan to do so it ain't stealing. Of course since I have an open policy and allow my neighbors on my wi-fi as well, it means they ain't stealing. We're just sharing what we ought to in a nice neighborly manner.
 

Re:I ain't a theif (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856957)

Interesting that this article appears next to the new SUSE 11.0 released article. Wonder if CmdrTaco hinting that we "borrow" some connections on each and every computer in the house and help feed the torrents?:P

This can be argued, but... (4, Insightful)

idiot900 (166952) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856377)

As it is officially a crime to steal wi-fi (Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code, which covers anybody who "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access")."
Would this apply to an access point which advertises its SSID and doesn't demand credentials from users? I would argue that it authorizes everyone to use it. To draw an analogy, it isn't just leaving your front door unlocked, it's leaving it unlocked and putting up a sign that says "Please come in!". So I don't see how accessing an open access point is a officially a crime.

But then again, I'm not a lawyer.

Re:This can be argued, but... (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856773)

To draw an analogy, it isn't just leaving your front door unlocked, it's leaving it unlocked and putting up a sign that says "Please come in!".
That is even worse, that is acting as an ISP without accepting the many liabilities that are associated (in the weird world of US laws) and possibly with the intent of eavesdropping on your "client" traffic. To go further in your analogy, it would be like offering free lodging in unhealthy hazardous building and with the right to steal other peoples wallet.

Re:This can be argued, but... (2, Insightful)

Se7enLC (714730) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856833)

To extend on that analogy - it's not like the front door of your house, it's like the door of a business.

An advertised SSID is identifying an available service. Just like a sign that says "bookstore" or "Starbucks" advertises the service available inside.

When I walk up to the door of the starbucks, I pull on the handle. If it's locked, I assume it's closed and I leave. If it's open, I go inside. Same with a wifi access point. If they have an advertised SSID and don't set a password it's the same as putting up a business sign and having the door unlocked.

In fact, a number of companies use this exact business model for wireless. Starbucks, TMobile, etc.

1). Connect to a wireless network without explicit authorization
2). Open a web browser.
3). A web page displays asking for credit card payment or other credentials for use.

On an open network, you're already surfing google before you get to step 3. And if that is committing a crime, so is accessing starbucks wireless.

Re:This can be argued, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856845)

>To draw an analogy, it isn't just leaving your front door unlocked, it's leaving it unlocked and putting up a sign that says "Please come in!".

Close. I'd say it's worse, it's more like putting up a sign that says "This is the Johnson household. Would you like to enter? I have free IP addresses and cookies for you!"

Re:This can be argued, but... (2, Interesting)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856855)

To draw an analogy, it isn't just leaving your front door unlocked, it's leaving it unlocked and putting up a sign that says "Please come in!".

Double that for access points in commercial places. You can argue (and I would disagree) that residential WLANs are meant to be private, but I would say that a business's hotspot is exactly as open as their front door. If it's unlocked and there's a sign saying "OPEN", then it's meant for me to use.

Re:This can be argued, but... (2, Funny)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856897)

Besides, how else are you supposed to get Internet when you first move? It took Comcast two weeks to come and set me up (and I'm a business customer). I'm sure it'll change one day... but until then, checking for and using a neighbor's wifi is just another part of moving!

Re:This can be argued, but... (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857111)

To draw an analogy, it isn't just leaving your front door unlocked, it's leaving it unlocked and putting up a sign that says "Please come in!".

More like a store with a sign that says "open".

Like the store, if the hotspot is open nobody should be able to say you are trespassing if you then enter.

Authorization (5, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856433)

Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code, which covers anybody who "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access"


Open routers have a policy of allowing authorization by default. As such, using an open router is not illegal under this act. If you have to crack anything, then it is illegal. But a simple open router is no different than an open anonymous FTP site, web server, irc server, etc.

sure, we understand that... (1)

airdrummer (547536) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856633)

but try to explain that to a local cop who's accosting you for parking in front of a house:-P

and if you do try, the thug might take offense:-(

Re:sure, we understand that... (2, Informative)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856821)

Depending upon where you are and the local laws, if you are parked in front of someone's house you could be cited for loitering. There is almost always a way for cops to detain/ticket someone if they want.

Re:Authorization (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856669)

and as such, I then doubt that "53%" have actually done it.

How Guilty? (4, Insightful)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856435)

How guilty do I feel when my computer/phone/whatever connects to a wide-open wifi signal without even prompting me to do anything? How about, "not at all"?

Not At All? (5, Funny)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856477)

But how guilty do we really feel?
About as guilty as I feel when I drive above the speed limit.

I can neither confirm nor deny... (4, Funny)

Ngarrang (1023425) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856485)

...that I may or may not be using yours or someone else's unsecured wi-fi access point, Definitely maybe not, to post this response.

This story is stupid (3, Interesting)

pilbender (925017) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856503)

WiFi hotspots are all over. I've connected to dozens of them. That's what they are for.

So the only way a person *knows* it's not intended to be a public network is by having someone complain about it after the fact. Lots of people leave their WiFi open at home as a "public service".

It's different to intentionally circumvent protections that are in place, like WEP or restriction by MAC address. That's prying open a locked door so to speak.

Sometimes I think these article summaries are intentionally worded to get slashdotters cranked up. Okay, it worked on me.

Re:This story is stupid (1)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856639)

Sometimes I think these article summaries are intentionally worded to get slashdotters cranked up. Okay, it worked on me.
Intentionally worded? CmdrTaco posted/approved the article, he knew what he was starting.

Re:This story is stupid (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857161)

Now there's a slashdot worthy debate. Does CmdrTaco know what he is doing or is he simply spewing what someone else wrote?

Not a crime under common law (1)

scubamage (727538) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856507)

Well, the definition of common law as I understood it, was that it was based on what the common person would view as illegal. People can pretty much unanimously agree that murder is wrong, as is theft. Malicious computer use is also viewed as bad (though for many geeks it still has a pretty fascinating "whoa, thats pretty neat" factor). If the majority of people see no issue with borrowing wifi, then the common person would no longer see it as a crime. Therefore it isn't a common law.
Maybe I'm just overanalyzing this. Silly lawmakers and their technological prowess - or lack thereof.

Re:Not a crime under common law (1)

k_187 (61692) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856665)

That's great and all, but you can't get out of a speeding ticket by saying, everybody else speeds!

you're right that somethign isn't illegal until there's precedent to make it illegal. The law on the books is sufficient for that.

Re:Not a crime under common law (1)

Se7enLC (714730) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856905)

Good luck applying that "common law" to sharing MP3s. Almost nobody thinks it is wrong, but the law still prosecutes those that do it.

Not to mention downloading TV shows. People who pay for cable would be shocked to find that they are breaking the law if they download a recording of a show from a friend.

Civil Law vs. Criminal Law (1)

essinger (781940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857043)

Well, the definition of common law as I understood it, was that it was based on what the common person would view as illegal.
IANAL, but I think you are confusing civil law with criminal. Criminal law is governed by statutes passed by the soveriegn authority. The article sites a statute. The "reasonable man" standard refers to the duty individuals have toward one another. So it's more applicable in torts.

Not at all? (2, Interesting)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856531)

But how guilty do we really feel?

Although I think the answer to that depends on how much (and how) we use it, I'd say that most people don't feel at all guilty about using any convenient access point for short, low-bandwidth activities.

If I need directions while out and about, I'll find an open AP and pull up Google Maps. No guilt whatsoever, and I wouldn't mind if someone used my AP for the same; In fact, I'd consider this one of the greatest side-effects of ubiquitous open WAPs, the ability to share a small trickle of a resource I never need all to myself (and to use it when I similarly need that small trickle of data).

Now, regularly using a neighbor's wireless to avoid needing to pay for your own ISP (unless you have an agreement to split the cost - Of course, the ISPs hate this, but I see no ethical problem with it) or downloading kiddie porn or sucking a large portion of the available bandwidth... That gets into abusive territory, and such people should feel guilty.

Illegal versus Unethical. (2, Insightful)

Jaywalk (94910) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857147)

Now, regularly using a neighbor's wireless to avoid needing to pay for your own ISP (unless you have an agreement to split the cost - Of course, the ISPs hate this, but I see no ethical problem with it) or downloading kiddie porn or sucking a large portion of the available bandwidth... That gets into abusive territory, and such people should feel guilty.
If we're looking for a "legal" definition, these activities (with the exception of the kiddie porn) are unethical rather than illegal. If someone leaves a WAP open with the understanding that others may use it, they're leaving themselves open to others who abuse the privilege. A bit like telling the neighbors they can borrow stuff from the workshed and assuming they'll return it in good condition. Those who abuse the privilege should feel guilty, but they shouldn't be arrested.

And if the neighbors ain't neighborly, it's time to padlock the workshed.

Blame Windows (4, Interesting)

sunderland56 (621843) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856561)

Windows is, by default, configured to automatically connect to new networks. Which means, it is configured to silently break the law, without your knowledge. The 53% of people who admit to stealing WiFi is probably really higher - many people don't know where thier bits are coming from.

The power went off in my house the other day - and nobody noticed. The four or five laptops in use all silently switched over to a neighbour's network. I can't see that being considered a crime.

Re:Blame Windows (1)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856849)

Ignoring the fact that accessing an unsecured network is not a crime, not knowing the law is no excuse for committing a crime.

For example, a friend of mine recently received a speeding ticket. He hadn't been paying attention and didn't know that the limit had been reduced to 25MPH. (He was doing 40, thinking he had been in a 35 zone.)

Re:Blame Windows (1)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856973)

This isn't about not knowing the law, it's about not knowing you're breaking it.

A better analogy would be if your friend's speedometer said 25 when he was actually doing 40.

Re:Blame Windows (2, Interesting)

Totenglocke (1291680) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857049)

Well the relevant thing in the case of the speeding ticket is, was the change in the speed limit clearly marked? I know many places around where I live where you can be on a road with a speed limit of say 45 or 50, turn onto another road, and not see a speed limit sign for several miles. If I was on one of those roads and got a ticket because I had to guess at the speed limit due to a lack of signs, you'd better believe I'd be suing.

Re:Blame Windows (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23857163)

Windows is, by default, configured to automatically connect to new networks.
Not true. Windows only connects automatically to "known networks". The fact that your four to five laptops switched over to a neighbour's network means that you connected to them earlier - criminal!

plenty of us just give it away... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856565)

At home I've got a completely open wifi access point for all my neighbors to use. Since none of them are all that tech savvy I don't need to worry about them hogging bandwidth through bittorrent and the like. I figure that as long as my own access to Internet is unobstructed, why shouldn't I let others partake in it for free?

Re:plenty of us just give it away... (2, Insightful)

despe666 (802244) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857015)

Here are a few reasons why this is a bad idea. 1. You are accountable for any illegal activity that happens on your account. Your neighbor may not be tech savvy, but wait until their nephew or grandson shows up and wreaks havoc on Limewire. 2. I assume this is not a problem for you, but by default, security software usually put the LAN in a trusted zone. Malware may spread quickly on a LAN you do not have control over. 3. If one of them discovers the joys of bittorrent, you can kiss your bandwidth limit goodbye (assuming you have one). My wi-fi is protected by WPA and MAC filters. It may not be 100% foolproof (what is anyways?), but it will keep most if not all of the trouble out.

Re:plenty of us just give it away... (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857061)

Those unsavvy neighbors are the best reason to lock it down. You never know which one of them will introduce any sort of virus / trojan / bot onto your network leading to a significant increase in attacks on your computer (even if they are against a Linux box, it can still be a DoS). I'd be more apt to share my network with tech savvy people that I trust....but they'll be the ones most likely to consume all of my bandwidth. So I just lock it down and hog it all myself.

Layne

Argh... (1)

Oxy the moron (770724) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856575)

The way this summary is worded makes my head hurt...

No, I didn't read TFA, but I think it's funny that we have to discuss the "ethics" of stealing Wi-Fi. I've always thought that leaving your access point open, broadcast, and unencrypted was akin to leaving things you didn't care for at the end of your driveway. Leaving it in that state is like saying, "Come and take what you want!" Everyone can see it. Nothing is guarding it. And there is nothing saying that it isn't up for grabs.

At least if you turned off the broadcast, you would remove the "everyone could see it" condition, and that would provide some sense that you want it to stay private. Granted, that's like covering your items at the end of a driveway covered in a tarpaulin, and isn't going to prevent anyone that really wants it, but it removes the notion of the underlying contents being there for the taking.

Re:Argh... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856859)

Where I live (France), going through an opened door
(front door of a flat) without being invited in is legally trespassing. So if someone forget to close their door, we are still not supposed to enter.

If this was wikipedia... (2, Interesting)

VMaN (164134) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856579)


If this was wikipedia, "stealing" in this context would be a weasel word...

If a router is handing out IPs, how is that stealing?

Unless we are talking wpa/wep encryption cracking, or possibly abusing the connection, I don't see what the problem is.

Re:If this was wikipedia... (1)

Zelos (1050172) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856901)

I have a usage cap on my ADSL. Anybody else using my connection is therefore stealing something in the non-RIAA sense of the word: any bandwidth somebody else uses is an amount I can't use.

(and yes, my WiFi is using WPA2 with a long passphrase, that doesn't change my opinion that anyone using somebody's WiFi without permission is an arsehole).

Crime (2, Interesting)

JustKidding (591117) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856585)

As it is officially a crime to steal wi-fi
in the US, maybe.

Some people actually do live outside the US. This may come as a surprise to you, be we even have electricity and computers.

Also, in many places, the law is quite a bit more reasonable. Where I live, it is only illegal to access a system when a reasonable effort has been made to protect it (so an open access point doesn't count), and even then, they have to prove you intentionally did that.

The story is about US Law (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857195)

Some people actually do live outside the US. This may come as a surprise to you, be we even have electricity and computers.

What's with the feigned outrage? To quote the summary:

Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code

There are sometimes stories and discussions on Slashdot that are obliviously US-centric. This is not such a case -- the summary clearly frames the subject.

Not at all, but... (1, Interesting)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856627)

my girlfriend's router conks out EVERY Monday, sometime between midnight and 7am. I keep meaning to put a faraday cage aorund it, and we've tried a number of different fixes. Now the whole thing is down.

My point? If the technology isn't there to reliably and consistently allow internet access which is *being paid for* then I see no reason why we shouldn't piggyback off someone else until the problem is solved. Redundancy and all (isn't that how the Intertubules are designed anyway)

On the other hand, if we all did that and piggybacked, obviously it would be a problem.

firmware update (1)

Easy2RememberNick (179395) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856707)

What would really be wrong is if someone went to the settings tab and uploaded a new firmware update only to discover it was corrupt which ends up bricking the neighbour's router.

  The neighbour not being tech savvy has to buy a new one. His lack of knowledge cost him money.

Does the law really say this? (5, Informative)

feenberg (201582) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856713)

Here is a link to the actual law:
http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00001030----000-.html

In addition to "intention" there seems also to be a requirement for damage or fraud, or revealing atomic secrets. I don't think it is obvious that using a wi-fi router based on a DHCP reply is improper under the law, although the syntax of the law is complex. Walking up the front walk of a home to ring the doorbell isn't necessarily trespassing, even without permission.

tsoat (5, Insightful)

Tsoat (1221796) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856717)

Encrypt your signal or expect people to use it. It's that simple folks

"Stealing" isn't the right word. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856721)

I leave my access point open on purpose. Anyone can connect, and I even named my router "Open Access Point". If someone connects, I don't think they're stealing from me.

At some point, I think society would be better served by everyone leaving all of their access points open. I love the idea of mesh networks and eliminating the need for everyone to have a wired connection to the internet.

Re:"Stealing" isn't the right word. (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857021)

In that case they are not stealing, but you are - from your ISP.

The fault is the tech (2, Interesting)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856731)

It's not well thought out. Otherwise you wouldn't have this issue in the first place.

If I want to share my WiFi it isn't easy to make it known of my wishes and my terms and conditions - after all, though I share it, I might say I log access, (mac addresses, urls etc) just in case someone does something illegal, so that if the cops come, I could throw them that bone to chew on, instead of them chewing on me.

If it were well thought out, it would be easy to have secure encrypted _anonymous_ connections:
1) no need for people to enter a password to get encryption
2) people cannot see each other's traffic - snooping is possible in some encryption modes, for example if everyone knows the WEP key, they can figure out each other's traffic, so you'd need some WPA mode, but these require username and passwords, you could give everyone the same username and password, but there's no standard for Windows, Linux, Mac to try "anonymous" usernames and passwords ala anonymous ftp.

And also there would be a standard way to get info about a wifi zone, and to prompt the user if the info/T&C changes, say when you computer connects to a different AP.

So the tech still needs a fair bit of work.

Just getting by (1)

BIK (31802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856809)


When I was homeless, it was the only internet access I had.

Lets Be Reasonable... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856815)

What's the cost of leeching of someones wifi? If you're not downloading a season of The Office with bit-torrent, or watching high-definition streaming video with your neighbors unsecured wifi then I cant imagine that you'd have any great impact on them. I have a cable modem connected to a wireless router at my apartment -- and I leave it unsecured intentionally for the sole purpose of helping someone out who needs to get online. For everyday browsing, emailing, and use of aptitude (I really don't do much more than that I guess) I'm fine with two or three guests in my routers DHCP table. I think the lesson we should take from wifi leaching is that for general purpose internet use, what most of us do, everyone having their own cable modem and paying a media-mega giant 60 bucks a month isn't necessary. If we got less up-tight about trusting our neighbors, it's another area where things could be cheaper.

I don't get it (4, Interesting)

leoboiko (462141) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856893)

I don't see what's the drama with open access. I leave my AP open on purpose, with an essid starting with "free_" to reinforce the idea, and a simple QOS setup to give me priority over my neighbors. I can't even notice when they're using the net, and I counted more than 10 different MAC addresses so far. More people using the net == good. It's not like I need all my bandwidth 24/7...

in b4 "but pedophiles will get you jailed, think of the children!!" -- I'm no more responsible for that than the hot dog vendor in the corner would be if ninja terrorists employed his hot dogs as lethal weapons.

It *is* unethical to steal wi-fi (1, Insightful)

jbash (784046) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856959)

I just want to point out that whether it's a crime or not to tap into your neighbor's wi-fi misses the point. Whether it's illegal or not, it is unethical. Here's why:

1. It puts your neighbor at risk for any illegal activities done by you that get traced to their IP address.

2. It boosts their bandwidth use higher than it otherwise would have been. Even if this doesn't directly harm them, it causes indirect harm to all the ISP's paying users because they have to subsidize your freeloading.

If you're stealing wifi right now, do the right thing and pay for it. SOMEONE has to pay for it, and it's not right to have someone else pay for you.

Re:It *is* unethical to steal wi-fi (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857005)

it's like finding money in a parking lot.

sure, you could track down the owner, but it's in your best interest to just keep it.

Re:It *is* unethical to steal wi-fi (1)

jbash (784046) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857071)

it's like finding money in a parking lot. sure, you could track down the owner, but it's in your best interest to just keep it.
That's a poor analogy because taking the money doesn't put the previous owner at risk, nor does it cost them (or anyone else) anything. Try again.

oh boy (2, Interesting)

gTsiros (205624) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856975)

They rob me of quiet and peace. i never make noise. They gun their 50cc twostroke scooters at 2am. i spent 100 bux (70 euros give or take) to fix my car's muffler so it is SILENT where they PAY to make them louder. they toss their garbage wherever they like. i try to recycle. the rest of the apartment block is drenched in tobaccosmoke stench. when/if i smoke i make sure to neutralize the smoke.

i don't feel guilty at all and don't you dare start with the "two wrongs don't make a right" crap. /torrenting as we speak

Re:oh boy (1)

gTsiros (205624) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857033)

Then again... if i go over and explain the situation to them (explain what to do to secure it etc) maybe afterwards they will listen if i politely ask them to mind others with their noise (music, scooter, yells)

I thought that law was un-enforceable (2, Insightful)

random coward (527722) | more than 6 years ago | (#23856983)

I thought that law was unenforceable, since the RIAA violates it routinely and it is never enforced against them.

"But how guilty do we really feel?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23856991)

I don't wish to comment on whether using someone's WiFi connection is morally wrong or not. I definitely have done that before.

I'd instead like to discuss the phrase, "but how guilty do we really feel?" It strikes me as moral relativism in its purest form: "but, your honor, I FELT like I should have Internet access." And it is troubling because you can seemingly justify anything if you try hard enough. I feel like I shouldn't have to go to work some days. They'd get along fine without me...but I know deep down I'm just being lazy and grumpy that day. The problem is me, not the fact that I have to go to work everyday. (I applied for a full time job, after all, if I want it to be a part time job or have a flexible schedule I should arrange for that myself.) I find the notion very disturbing because it usually reeks of someone feeling they are entitled to certain things from society they wouldn't have otherwise. Sally Undergrad absolutely MUST have the latest Usher album right NOW even though she will have enough money to buy it tomorrow from iTunes.

Delayed gratification seems to be this quaint notion replaced by a selfish, "me me me" notion that we've embraced wholesale from materialism. And nobody seems to care that we're unable to wait for anything. I'm not saying we need to live as monks, but if you think materialism has no spiritual implications, you've had the wool pulled over your eyes.

lolwut (1)

snarfies (115214) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857003)

As it is officially a crime to steal wi-fi (Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code, which covers anybody who "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access")."

1) That is not a complete sentence.
2) So long as I'm not cracking into a locked router, I have authorization to use it.

Get over the 'theft' idea people (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857075)

You didn't *take* anything. This is as bad marketing as 'stealing music' or 'stealing sat TV'.

If it's open- I'll use it! (1)

neowolf (173735) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857107)

My philosophy is if someone is ignorant enough to leave a WiFi connection open- I'll access it if I have to. I've generally only done this in "emergencies" where I need to take care of a problem at my office and I'm not where Internet access can be had "legitimately". It's usually easy to find an open connection within a block or two of wherever I am.

I DO NOT try to break WEB/WPA keys or otherwise circumvent any security on a connection. In that respect- I believe I am within the law. I also only use it to access the Internet, and I don't try to crack/hack anything on the open network (even though they would likely be easy prey).

I do know several people in my neighborhood that use others' open WiFi connections as their primary Internet access. I just think that's dangerous and cheap.

Stop misusing the word "stealing" (2, Interesting)

szquirrel (140575) | more than 6 years ago | (#23857173)

For fuck's sake, do we have to go over this again? Stealing means that the perpetrator takes something away and the victim doesn't have it anymore. It doesn't apply to accessing someone's wifi, it doesn't apply to unscrambling a pay-TV channel, it doesn't apply to copying a digital file.

If you're going to cast "unauthorized use" in terms of robbery, then don't cry about how your rights are being taken away when you get prosecuted as a robber for making use of something that someone else couldn't be bothered to secure properly.
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