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UK Police Cracking Down on Broadband Theft

samzenpus posted about 7 years ago | from the throw-away-the-key dept.

Wireless Networking 672

dubculture writes "A 39 year-old man in West London was arrested for dishonestly obtaining free internet access" from an unsecured wireless router nearby. The article discusses a couple of other cases, including one where a fine of £500 (~US$1000) was handed out for, essentially, taking advantage of someone else's inability (read: apathy) towards securing their home network."

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No problem (5, Interesting)

lukesky321 (1092369) | about 7 years ago | (#20324001)

I have an unsecure network, and I really don't care if anyone uses it as long as nothing illegal is performed.

Re:No problem (2, Insightful)

Kickstart70 (531316) | about 7 years ago | (#20324023)

You are assuming common sense in the halls of justice. Once the cop finds someone using an access point, how is that cop going to find out who owns the unsecured router based on the advertised name ("LINKSYS")?

Re:No problem (5, Insightful)

absoluteflatness (913952) | about 7 years ago | (#20324083)

Which is obviously why these charges must be based on some kind of complaint or cooperation from the owner of the access point. There's really no way for the police to tell you're doing anything wrong if you're just on a wireless connection of some kind.

That being said, the owner of the access point is entirely within their rights to both improperly secure it, and to attempt to pursue those who improperly use it. The analogy of the home with the door left open applies somewhat well here.

Re:No problem (5, Insightful)

iamacat (583406) | about 7 years ago | (#20324225)

The intention of access point owner must be known to the user ahead of time. If the network is completely unsecured, it should be assumed that it's public access. If it is secured, however improperly - 40 bit WEP password of "welcome", mac check, hidden network id - access is illegal without explicit consent of the owner. If you build a water fountain standing in the open, don't be surprised if people drink.

Re:No problem (3, Insightful)

absoluteflatness (913952) | about 7 years ago | (#20324343)

I had just thought of this caveat after I had posted. The subtleties of "stealing" wireless access, would, in my mind, require the owner to somehow make the user aware that their use was not acceptable before any charges could be brought.

Of course, this case, where a man was standing by the wall of a house and admitted to being there for the express purpose of using the owner's broadband, is somewhat less defensible than most. There is the frequent point that reading by the light through someone's windows is not illegal (after all, they're both EM radiation), but I would tend to think that the access granted to you by using a wireless signal somewhat changes the legal calculus on this. Using someone's extra light doesn't magically increase their electrical bill the way that internet use could on someone billed by usage.

Re:No problem (3, Insightful)

SnowZero (92219) | about 7 years ago | (#20324529)

The analogy of the home with the door left open applies somewhat well here.
Well, IMO it's more like peeing in a working toilet that someone installed on their front lawn.

Don't get me wrong; I don't think its right to to steal wireless bandwidth against an owner's wishes, but any punishment more severe than a fine is going too far. You don't get arrested for parking illegally (well, as long as you pay your tickets), and this should be much the same way. Using someone's bandwidth (so that they can't) is a lot like parking where you partially block their driveway.

You make an excellent point that a citation should only occur when an owner complains. Unfortunately I'm not sure that standard is being met in these recent cases.

Re:No problem (1)

dch24 (904899) | about 7 years ago | (#20324113)

Because there can be no conviction if he refuses to press charges. It's only a theft if the property owner claims that it wasn't being given away. But laws vary.

This article shows how you can be arrested in the UK. Here is an email [] (on the interesting-people mailing list, google cache) about a case in Canada where a man was convicted for "war driving." But apparently, in the US (as of 2002) there is only an FBI advisory - from the politech mailing list []

Perhaps someone with more legal knowledge can reply and update us on the state of the law in the US. And note that I'm not talking about DMCA violations if the connection is WEP or WPA-encrypted. I'm looking just at the "wireless theft" part.

Re:No problem (1)

1984 (56406) | about 7 years ago | (#20324051)

I really don't care if anyone uses it as long as nothing illegal is performed

And er, how are you policing that exactly?

I'll bet at least your ISP thinks you're on the hook for anything that goes over that connection under the ToS you have with them, without regard for generous sentiment.

Problem. (1)

twitter (104583) | about 7 years ago | (#20324311)

Why should he "police" anything. The copyright holder has to prove you did something wrong. Policing it their job and there's nothing wrong with sharing internet access.

There is a problem (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#20324261)

You are giving away the ISPs services for free. All this freeloading removes money from the industry.... and who's going to whine when there's insufficient bandwidth for everything you want to do?

Re:There is a problem (2, Insightful)

twitter (104583) | about 7 years ago | (#20324349)

All this freeloading removes money from the industry.... and who's going to whine when there's insufficient bandwidth for everything you want to do?

Sharing is good, OK? No money is removed by people who would never have bought the service anyway. If you want to lose customers and really remove money from the industry, just try telling them they HAVE to "secure" their wireless and fine them for not doing it. There's not a lot between people who don't care and those who are copyright warrior about it. The vast majority of people would drop the service if they could not use it as they please or it became a pain in the ass.

Re:There is a problem (1)

absoluteflatness (913952) | about 7 years ago | (#20324451)

I would bet that a large amount of this "sharing" is being done from people who aren't even aware that their connection continues outside their walls, or don't know that anything could be done to secure them. A much easier step from the point of view of ISPs would be to just supply their customers with access points and routers that are already secured. Now if only the networking manufacturers could take the same steps. I would make the assumption that the type of person who wishes to share their access is also the type who would be willing to spend a few seconds to turn the protection off.

Normally, I would be one of those sharing people, but I'm in a college dorm where everyone already has access and would probably only be using my connection to distance themselves from some illicit or illegal activity, so I have my wireless traffic encrypted. I already have enough to worry about from my own illicit activities, thank you very much.

Then it is not theft.... (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#20324525)

TFA is about cracking down on theft.

If you deliberately share your bandwidth allocation within the limits of your agreement with your ISP then it is not theft.

If, however, the ISP says you are not allowed to share it but you do then that is theft.

But is the bandwidth yours to give away? (3, Insightful)

BitterOak (537666) | about 7 years ago | (#20324509)

I know with cable television, in many jurisdictions, if you let your neighbors hook up to your cable, both you and the neighbor could be charged with a crime. Just because it's okay with you that random people use "your" bandwidth, doesn't mean it's okay with your ISP. My analogy probably isn't perfect, but just because someone opens up their wireless router and doesn't mind if people drive by and use their access point doesn't mean it's legal. I'm not sure what the law says about this. There are laws about stealing computer services, but whose are you stealing? The ISP or the owner of the access point? I think it would hinge on that question. It would probably depend on whether you pay by the gigabyte, or have an unlimited rate. If you are eating at an all you can eat restaurant, you aren't allowed to share your food with a non-paying friend. Generally, however, you can share if you pay for a fixed size meal.

Re:No problem (2, Insightful)

MrCoke (445461) | about 7 years ago | (#20324523)

I have an unsecure network, and I really don't care if anyone uses it as long as nothing illegal is performed.
How will you know ?

First ping (1)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | about 7 years ago | (#20324011)

The bad part is that the person who had their internet access
borrowed probably did not get any help to secure their WIFI.

Re:First ping (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324307)

The person whose base station this was either set it to public access or left it on public access. So no "borrowing" occurring. This was sharing pure and simple.

I leave my base station set to public access for precisely this purpose, to share my internet connection wirelessly over the public airwaves to the public nearby.

U.K. police and courts are being quite backwards in this situation (paralleling some U.S. courts and police) to mistake a wireless base station set to public access for anything but a wireless base station set for public access.

Re:First ping (1)

mangu (126918) | about 7 years ago | (#20324323)

the person who had their internet access borrowed probably did not get any help to secure their WIFI.

From whom do you think they should get help, and at what price? If someone isn't entitled to get free internet access, then why should someone else get free consulting on securing their WIFI routers?

Theft is theft (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324013)

Be it candy bars, wireless broadband, or mp3s. They should crack down.

Re:Theft is theft (2, Interesting)

peacefinder (469349) | about 7 years ago | (#20324095)

Then stop stealing my sunlight, ya daft bastard! ... what? Sunlight can't be stolen, but 2.4MHz EM signals can? It's all EM radiation.

Re:Theft is theft (1, Insightful)

netsavior (627338) | about 7 years ago | (#20324223)

If you post a newspaper article on your door, and I walk by and read it, did I steal your newspaper? If you stand in your yard naked and I see you, am I a peeping tom? If your music is too loud and I listen to you play your CDs am I stealing music?

Leaching is not stealing, since nothing is LOST. If you don't want people leaching, then stop them from doing so.. involving the government just makes things mroe rediculious for everyone.

Re:Theft is theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324317)

If I download the source code to the GNU Scientific Library and quietly use it as part of a statistics package which I sell as closed source (since I don't want scumbag competitors freeloading off my hard work), am I hurting anybody? Who am I hurting? What has been lost? So I guess this should be legal?

Re:Theft is theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324409)

So I guess this should be legal?

No, unless you can not read, in which case I would not be thrilled to use your software anyway...

Re:Theft is theft (1, Insightful)

whoever57 (658626) | about 7 years ago | (#20324329)

Leaching is not stealing, since nothing is LOST.
What if I am trying to download a large file and the leech is using some of the bandwidth, so my download is slower? What if I hit my monthly allowance because of the data downloaded by the leech?

In this case, the owner was probably freaked by having someone sitting in a car parked outside his house.

Re:Theft is theft (1)

easter1916 (452058) | about 7 years ago | (#20324415)

It's 'leeching'. As in 'leeches'. Blood sucking primitive organisms.


Leech (computing), in computing, someone who uses others' information or effort but does not provide any in return.

Re:Theft is theft (1)

mlk (18543) | about 7 years ago | (#20324431)

Depends on how the BB is payed for. If User A (lets call them WankerThatDoesNotSecureWireless, or User A for short) pays £10 for a fast, but capped at 5GB connection. Beyond this User A pays £5 a gig. User A actually uses around 4GB a month, and so never cares he is capped.

Then User B comes along and leaches from User A. Should User B use over 1GB of data User A has lost £5.

AND they've done it before!!! (1)

a11 (716827) | about 7 years ago | (#20324015)

who says it's illegal?? I leave the AP unsecured as a service to others. sounds like this "law" is something the screw-the-customer monopoly-isps pushed through. kill them all.

the opposing viewpoint (2, Insightful)

Doddman (953998) | about 7 years ago | (#20324035)

if someone leaves their door open, does it give you a right to go into their house and drink their water?

Re:the opposing viewpoint (5, Insightful)

TheLazySci-FiAuthor (1089561) | about 7 years ago | (#20324059)

If someone leaves a hose running into the street is it wrong to take some of that water?

Re:the opposing viewpoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324129)

Or if someone leaves their bike unlocked on their front lawn, is there something wrong about using it?

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1, Insightful)

blhack (921171) | about 7 years ago | (#20324135)

more like:
if your neighbor's irrigation system is spraying across your yard, is it your responsibility to prevent your grass from being watered by it?

Not in this case (2, Insightful)

einhverfr (238914) | about 7 years ago | (#20324169)

The guy was (from TFA):

1) Sitting outside the owners house.

2) Admitted to using it without permission.

If you were in your own home, you might have a point. In that case, I don't see a real problem. But going out of your way to find someone's access point, seeking it out, etc. seems to me somewhat different.

Re:Not in this case (2, Insightful)

AWhistler (597388) | about 7 years ago | (#20324419)

OK. If I'm a farmer, minding my own business, and I harvest my corn, keeping a few ears for seeds next year, and next year I get sued for stealing genetically engineered corn seeds whose pollen blew in from a neighboring farm the year before, did I do something illegal?

At first, the answer was "yes", but recently some courts have decided to wake up and answer "no".

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1)

sjf (3790) | about 7 years ago | (#20324171)

If my rooftop is being irradiated by DirectTV's satellite, is it wrong do decode the signal and watch HBO without paying for it ?

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1)

Usquebaugh (230216) | about 7 years ago | (#20324249)

No but it is unlawful

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 7 years ago | (#20324397)

Not if you live in Canada. From what I know (IANAL) it's legal to decrypt any signal you want, because it's over the air, and public domain. That's why all the pirate satellite dishes and receivers are referred to as grey-market. Because you are allowed to do this.

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1)

burndive (855848) | about 7 years ago | (#20324461)

The illegal thing here would be decoding it. This was unencrypted WiFi.

What's more, his computer asked the wireless router for permission to connect, and it granted permission and handed it an IP address.

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1)

RajivSLK (398494) | about 7 years ago | (#20324145)

While I'm not weighing in on way or another I think it would be more correct to say:

If someone left a hose in the street would it be wrong to turn the tap and take some water?

and then the question becomes, how much water? Is it wrong to drink if you are thirsty? Is the wrong to fill up a tank full of water? fill your swimming pool? shut off the water service to your house and connect the hose to your plumbing?

Re:the opposing viewpoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324287)

That analogy doesn't quite work though, because wireless internet access is not just a one-way application.

Imagine I rig up my house lighting to work via remote control. Because my porch light provides some illumination into your kitchen, you decide to build your own remote to control my porch light (keep it on all the time), to save some money on your own lighting bills. Legal?

More like an extension cord (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#20324507)

A running hose just wastes the water if nobody uses it.

Awifi connection does not use internet resource if nobody uses it. Thus, a better analogy would be an extension cord in the street. Is it wrong to take someone else's electricity if you just happen upon their extension cord?

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1)

Propaganda13 (312548) | about 7 years ago | (#20324133)

In a lot of places, if you put your garbage out on the street, people are allowed to go through it as long as they don't trespass on your property.

If they're going to prosecute this type of crime, they should have a standard way for people to denote that their open wifi is available for public use.

Re:the opposing viewpoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324177)

Um, this is so wrong in so many ways....

This is radio waves we're talking about...

So the more appropriate analogy would be if my neighbor had his hose/sprinker on, and water was landing in my yard and I filled a bucket with it and watered my fruit tree across the yard.


Re:the opposing viewpoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324407)

If you're just receiving the water, that's fine. But what if you're also capable of remotely *turning on* your neighbor's sprinkler system, and running it 24/7 so that you can collect as much water as possible?

Re:the opposing viewpoint (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324193)

Well I think in the case of unsecured wireless, it's like:

  Knock knock, is anyone there?
  Sure thing buddy, c'mon in, make yourself comfortable, here have an IP address
  Gee thanks a lot
  Hey no problem, help yourself to anything around here, fresh beer in the fridge, etc etc

Re: This is all too silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324245)

A $1000 fine for using a signal that someone else is irradiating you with is silly.

I guess the simplest answer is to dummy-proof wireless routers. Make it the law that all wireless routers are shipped with "security" turned on and an access key is needed to connect. If the dumb user doesn't like it all they have to do is plug-in an Ethernet cable (or USB cable) and go the the router's web page and click on "disable security".

If you are sophisticated enough to buy and setup a wireless router you are probably sophisticated enough to be able to use a web browser :-p

Deeply flawed (5, Funny)

Daimanta (1140543) | about 7 years ago | (#20324299)

This metaphore is deeply flawed. It doesn't contain any cars.

Moral responsibility.. (1)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | about 7 years ago | (#20324037)

To paraphrase a quote: It's morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their Internets.

Re:Moral responsibility.. (1)

CraniumDesigns (1113153) | about 7 years ago | (#20324091)

nice rounders reference :)

Stealing light (1, Interesting)

TheWizardTim (599546) | about 7 years ago | (#20324043)

If you were to sit in your house and read a book by the 1000 watt light on my house, would you be stealing? Now if I built an 8 foot tall fence and you hopped it, or broke it down, then yes you would be breaking the law. Otherwise it's not a crime if I do nothing to protect my light or wireless network.

Re:Stealing light (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324309)

If you were to sit in your house and read a book by the 1000 watt light on my house, would you be stealing?

No, because I wouldn't be depriving you of your light. The problem with using a service without permission like this is that you can diminish the quality of service for the legitimate users. If I'm trying to play a game of Quake and getting lousy ping times because you're using my connection to download MP3s, then you are actually taking away my ability to use the service I'm paying for. It's like standing between me and my lightbulb. I don't want to read in your shadow.

Re:Stealing light (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324313)

The analogy is faulty. The theft here is not just decoding packets transmitted by the homeowner (perhaps a privacy violation like being a peeping Tom) but the illegal use of valuable computer resources (CPU cycles at least) ws well as the likely poaching of the homeowner's internet connection.

Light != wifi (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#20324383)

Very bad comparison.

The 1000W light is just waste and using it does not use up anybody's resources. However making a connection to their wifi uses more than just wasted resources.

Re:Stealing light (1)

azenpunk (1080949) | about 7 years ago | (#20324403)

what about me shining my 1000 watt bulb through your windows to read the book you are holding? (for a wireless connection i have to send signals back into your home too) i dont beleive it should be illegal myself, but i do beleive it is important to try and consider your oppositions point of view.

Re:Stealing light (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324477)

Your analogy is a little off.

The electric company doesn't provide unlimited electricity for a fixed cost. If you're running a 1000 watt light, and half the light shines into my house, it doesn't matter to the electric company. They still get paid for 1 kWh for every hour you have the light on. You're just dumb for buying too big a light bulb. If, instead, you run a 500W light and I get my own 500W light, the electric company gets paid the same.

ISPs provide us burstable bandwidth for a fixed, somewhat reasonable (well, maybe not, but let's pretend that it is) price. They're able to do this because they oversubscribe, with the theory that not everyone needs to burst at the same time. If half their customers canceled their service and started leeching off a neighbor, the ISP would make half as much money, but would still need to provide the same bandwidth. Then they'd have to raise prices, and your neighbor will pay for it.

The law should not be involved in this. (2, Insightful)

Aetuneo (1130295) | about 7 years ago | (#20324061)

If the person "stealing" the wireless access was actually breaking into it (eg, accessing a secured wireless router by cracking the password or hacking the router), than it might make sense for the law to get involved. However, in this case, using an unsecured wireless router amounts to picking up some money off the street and using it (not an exact analogy, but close). If you leave something where anyone can take it, without trespassing on your property (breaking in to your house, or computer), then there is no reason for someone to be arrested for taking or using it.

Preemptive Strike (4, Insightful)

Anubis350 (772791) | about 7 years ago | (#20324063)

Before anyone starts in with the "if the door is open, you can't go into someones house anyway" argument, I'm going to point out that most laptops these days auto connect to open connections, or at least do a popup that if the avg user isn't paying attention will connect them when they hit enter. Just like with property, than when rights aren't enforced long enough when people walk on it, it becomes public use land, the same is true of the wireless network. people leaving their networks with SSID broadcast no security is *not* the equivalent of an open, unlocked door on a residence, it's the equivalent of laying out all your stuff in the middle of the street with a sign that says "please take", or at least a path through their land that they never gated and never shooed anyone off of, it's for the public use at that point.

Their carelessness does not give you premission. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324167)

Doesn't matter what the signals owner did or did not do.

The law says you cant do it, then you CANT do it. It's not like the wireless router is forcing you to use that network.

You should have enough sense to not connect to it.

Re:Preemptive Strike (1)

whoever57 (658626) | about 7 years ago | (#20324277)

Before anyone starts in with the "if the door is open, you can't go into someones house anyway" argument,
Actually, I believe that, in the UK, you can go in, quite legally. The laws against trespass are somewhat mild in the UK -- until a decade or so ago, trespass was not illegal, now mass trespass is illegal, but I don't think individual trespass is illegal.

Re:Preemptive Strike (1)

Calyth (168525) | about 7 years ago | (#20324331)

Well supposedly at least for somewhere in North America, breaking and entering isn't necessarily about a guy busting down the door, but for crossing the barrier between say the sidewalk and private property.

However, in terms of wireless, there is really, no well defined boundary. Last time I read about wireless distance record attempts, it went from Las Vegas to Utah using a 10ft parabolic antenna (at Defcon) at 275km. Suppose I manage to connect to a wireless AP using one of these monsters through the English channel (improbable, I know), but what would you do now? Phone Interpol?

They have better luck getting manufacturers to turn on wireless security like WPA on default than to actually prosecute. How will a bobby on his beat know that I'm connecting to some guy's wireless if I'm doing it at home?

Re:Preemptive Strike (1)

davmoo (63521) | about 7 years ago | (#20324385)

From TFA:

When questioned he admitted using the owner's unsecured wireless internet connection without permission and was arrested on suspicion of stealing a wireless broadband connection.

Yup, sounds like an accidental connecton there, eh?

Ironic example (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324389)

or at least a path through their land that they never gated and never shooed anyone off of, it's for the public use at that point United_Kingdom []

You may want to rethink your example given that this happened in the UK. There are public footpaths that (in some cases) have existed for hundreds of years, and that can and do pass across private land.

Re:Preemptive Strike (5, Insightful)

Angst Badger (8636) | about 7 years ago | (#20324517)

All these analogies are pointless anyway. If the local legislature enacts a statute imposing a fine for unauthorized access to an unsecured network, and you get caught doing it, you can be fined. It doesn't matter in the least what network access is "like". Network access could be like skiing down the Swiss Alps or biting into a Peppermint Patty for all that it matters. We're not talking about a law regulating access to land being imaginatively applied to network access. We're talking about a law explicitly regulating network access.

And yes, people should secure their networks if they don't want to deal with casual intruders. But people should also stop taking advantage of the ignorance of other people, too.

Hustler access (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324521)

A friend of mind transferred to town to do video editing for Hustler. They gave him a Mac laptop with Final Cut Pro and a place to stay (new condo for doing shoots). He never used a Mac before and wanted a little help to come up to speed. When I got there he said his internet was also not working sometimes. I poked around the computer a little bit and then asked him where the internet service was from, Cable? Bell? I laughed since I found out there was no internet in the house and he was unknowingly connecting to a neighbours router. He just assumed as he had access at work that he would have access at home and that the internet came with the computer.

Should he be liable or charged? He was definitely downloading and uploading porn :-)

Re:Preemptive Strike (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324531)

suppose the unsecured connection had a weekly/monthly cap on data and this guy decides that because it isn't secured he can go in and use it for his purposes [legal or very illegal, it doesn't matter to him] is it still ok for him to do that? much like if you left your door open and someone went into your house and helped themselves to your food/beer/whatever would it be ok for them to do that? after all you didn't bother to lock your door... should the connection have been secured? of course. was it right for someone to use it because it wasn't secured? fuck no, he's a thief.

Unlocked door? (1)

rattlesoft (1086131) | about 7 years ago | (#20324065)

I've got mixed feelings about this issue. Part of me believes it the same as if it was an unlocked door to a house or car, just because it's unlocked doesn't mean you should be allowed to get away with "using" the resources inside.

Re:Unlocked door? (1, Troll)

kimvette (919543) | about 7 years ago | (#20324119)

Broadcasting an SSID and not locking the WAP is an invitation to use the connection. Don't want people on it? Read the freaking manual and lock it down. Don't invite people in. This is akin to putting a television out on the front lawn with a sign saying "free TV" and then pressing charges for larceny when someone takes that advertised television.


Re:Unlocked door? (1)

mlk (18543) | about 7 years ago | (#20324295)

I want to agree with you, however have you read the manual, or looked at the default settings for some home networking kit?

They not only default too, but not only not mention security, but darn near recommend leaving it completely open. The Datel WiFi Max for example.

Re:Unlocked door? (1)

rattlesoft (1086131) | about 7 years ago | (#20324367)

If you think about it, it's in the best interest of the vendor of the access point to suggest the consumer not secure it. By default it's not secured and for a normal user, it would mean complex steps (At least to them it is), which normally means busier tech support staff to guide users through the process of securing a router.

Re:Unlocked door? (1)

batkiwi (137781) | about 7 years ago | (#20324393)

Saying it is so doesn't make it so, and contrived analogies are not relevant. Your analogy was one of the worst I've seen due to the sign part, but also due to the fact that passer-bys watching your TV on the lawn does not possibly cost you more (many UK plans charge for usage, same as here in Australia) and does not prevent you from "tuning" as many channels on the other TVs in your house.

Unless the SSID is something like "public" or "freewifi" then you do not have a reasonable expectation that it is there for you to use.

Here's an analogy that possibly works, but even then I feel dirty coming up with one:
You put in an ourdoor electricity point on the front of your house to power a pressure washer without using a long extension cord. You do not put a lock on it, only a simple weather cover so that it doesn't get rained on. The outdoor box the electrician fitted it with is bright orange, and you're not an electrician so you don't bother to change it. Am I justified in running an extension cord to my place and running my server cluster off of it? Am I justified using it "just a few minutes" to charge my mobile phone if it's dead and I happen to walk by and see it?

You would say "yes" to both of those, as I haven't put a padlock on it.

Re:Unlocked door? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324143)

Turn your computer on and activate the WiFi connection. The wifi connection wizard shows available network. You click on one that says "unsecured" and press connect. Your computer then asks the access point if it can connect and may it have an IP address. The access point says, "sure, here you go." Isn't this like the owner (via the access point) giving permission to use the network? Some people don't care if others use their wifi network. How can one passing by know?

I can understand that it's wrong if someone cracks the encryption to the access point and grabs the communication keys. In that case you don't need any new laws; common computer tresspass laws are enough.

Re:Unlocked door? (1)

rattlesoft (1086131) | about 7 years ago | (#20324161)

Exactly. See thats what I meant. The other part of me believes that the issue is the fact users shouldn't operate devices they don't know 100% how to use.

Re:Unlocked door? (1)

Morky (577776) | about 7 years ago | (#20324283)

Very well put. I will use this to explain my point going forward.

WTF? (2, Insightful)

growse (928427) | about 7 years ago | (#20324071)

How the hell are you supposed to know if you're allowed to connect to an available unsecured access point or not? Can starbucks arrest everyone in their shop using it if they decide on a whim that they didn't actually mean anyone to unlawfully 'break into' their unsecured wireless network?

Re:WTF? (1)

LordSnooty (853791) | about 7 years ago | (#20324107)

If they asked people to stop then yes, the customer would be gaining unauthorised access to the network. The fact that 'free wi-fi' is plastered everywhere is reasonable grounds to assume they won't be asking people to stop.

Re:WTF? (1)

growse (928427) | about 7 years ago | (#20324157)

So I enter a public space, and there's an unsecured wi-fi point. Am I breaking the law if I connect to that? Do I need explicit permission to connect to an unsecured access point, and what form must that permission take? Or am I allowed to connect to anything and it only becomes illegal if the owner complains? How does the owner prove they're the owner of an SSID?

Re:WTF? (1)

gronofer (838299) | about 7 years ago | (#20324351)

Or am I allowed to connect to anything and it only becomes illegal if the owner complains?
The article implies that in the UK at least, the owner doesn't need to complain, and doesn't even need to know that somebody has been arrested for using the connection.

Re:WTF? (2, Insightful)

faloi (738831) | about 7 years ago | (#20324469)

From TFA:
  When questioned he admitted using the owner's unsecured wireless internet connection without permission and was arrested on suspicion of stealing a wireless broadband connection.
Your first hint that you might not be allowed to use the connection is when you realize you don't have permission and admit it to the local constabulary.

If it's illegal to use an unsecured wifi network.. (4, Insightful)

tuxlove (316502) | about 7 years ago | (#20324079)

...then why do hardware manufacturers design their products to automatically join unsecured networks by default? You could get cited simply for buying a laptop and turning it on. Some unsecured networks actually are intended to be used freely. How are you supposed to tell?

Seems to me that the law should clearly state the legal difference between an "open" and "closed" wifi network, presumably with password protection being the key difference.

Re:If it's illegal to use an unsecured wifi networ (1)

Osty (16825) | about 7 years ago | (#20324481)

...then why do hardware manufacturers design their products to automatically join unsecured networks by default? You could get cited simply for buying a laptop and turning it on.

What do hardware manufacturers have to do with it? It's a software implementation detail, and in Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista you can't connect to an unsecured network by default. You have to acknowledge the fact that the network is unsecured and that you'd like to connect to it before it will do so. I have no idea if Linux or OS X behave the same, but I'd be very surprised if they didn't. The last thing you'd want to do is to connect to an unsecured, unknown network by default, as it's a huge security risk (you don't know what is happening on that network).

DHCP (2, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 7 years ago | (#20324513)

If this poor sod used DHCP then one could argue that he asked and was granted permission to join: Request -> Offer -> Accept is valid contract.

It is different if he had to actively sniff the network in order to figure out how to join.

Hmmm. (1, Troll)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20324081)

in Germany, pretty much all access points are secured. In the UK, pretty much only those owned by IT people.

In Germany the owner is responsible for the traffic. In the UK, they're not. Perhaps the average British person is just dumber than the average German. Perhaps personal responsibility makes a difference.


Re:Hmmm. (1)

datapharmer (1099455) | about 7 years ago | (#20324121)

Perhaps in the UK they learned how to *share*
Someone needs to teach this *sharing* concept to the police!

Re:Hmmm. (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20324185)

No, really, it is just ignorance.


Re:Hmmm. (1)

easter1916 (452058) | about 7 years ago | (#20324369)

Is that Colin who worked at B&L Hoofddorp 96 to 98ish...?

Re:Hmmm. (2, Informative)

Stevecrox (962208) | about 7 years ago | (#20324421)

Most wireless networks I've come accross (which is alot) are secured, currently from my bedroom in my house I can detect 8 secured wireless networks and 0 unsecured, if I travel through the city with my PDA which supports 802.11b/g it highly rare to come accross a unsecure network. 3 or 4 years ago you would have been right I still remember being able to walk from my house the two miles into the city centre listening to Radio 1 as my device hopped from one network to anouther. Today I can't do that there are only three unsecured networks (University, B&Q and the pub/bar wifi network) that I've found in my home city and all through require you to go through a VPN to gain web access.

Perhaps you should spend less time insulting British people and making snide comments, networks were unsecured because people didn't know what WEP and WAP were, they didn't realise people could access their network. Thanks to prosecutions like this and the news/papers reporting on it they know now to secure their networks even if they still don't know what WAP and WEP are.

Re:Hmmm. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324489)

In the UK, pretty much only those owned by IT people.
Uh, have you actually met any UK "IT people"? Most of them are still waiting for their 386 to boot up. To them, anything "wireless" is what they use to listen to cricket!

Why steal Wi-Fi ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324089)

When you can get it legally at a great real-ale pub such as one of these [] ?

Meh, it's the law (2, Insightful)

faloi (738831) | about 7 years ago | (#20324123)

Dishonestly obtaining free internet access is an offence under the Communications Act 2003 and a potential breach of the Computer Misuse Act
From the article, it wasn't quite like he just happened to luck into a network that wasn't secure. It sounds like he parked himself outside the house, and got caught. And there's a law against it in the UK.
Don't like it, oppose the law...or try to get it overturned. Until then, you have to live with it even though you might find it stupid.

Just one tiny question ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20324153)

How do the people, who poach other people's wifi, get caught? My WAG is that the vast majority of them never get caught. The powers_that_be seem to make a big deal of catching a freeloader, but really ... Heck, most of those being poached probably never know it's happening.

Am I missing something here?

Completely wrong paradigm (4, Insightful)

teutonic_leech (596265) | about 7 years ago | (#20324163)

Bandwidth should be ubiquitous - as usual we are letting our fears drive our policies. I completely understand that the authorities want to be able to pinpoint who's using their connection to download child p0rn, send messages to known terrorist organizations, steal credit cards, or send spam. But the reality of it all is that the 'bad boys' already know how to protect themselves and how to obfuscate their identity. Add to this that 90% of all computers connected to the Internet are virus and trojan ridden (i.e. running Windows). So, this whole push to penalize people for using Internet connections wherever they are available is tantamount to the RIAA's effort to curb the proliferation of digital media, which thus far has proven to be an exercise in futility (since digital media inherently wants to be copied since it [most] always produces identical copies).

I see a huge opportunity here for some entity to encourage and drive the proliferation of [low cost] ubiquitous Internet access. Obviously in some way or fashion the wireless and mobile industries are working towards that goal, but it's far from being universally available. Again, the wrong paradim is being applied - we should encourage bandwidth to be used, not prevent others from accessing it. If I am able to share my bandwidth with my neighbors, and vice versa - we all win in the end and enjoy higher QoS. Also, the more we spread out the last 100 feet Internet access points the more efficient we are using our infrastructure as a whole. I know this sounds anarchistic to some extent, but right now we are moving into the exact opposite of the spectrum: bandwidth scaling, packet filtering, access restrictions wherever you turn. Is this how we imagined the Internet to turn into? If we let this trend continue, how is it going to wind up 10 or 20 years from now? Are we all going to be monitored/analyzed/profiled and at the same time 'herded' into tightly controlled pipes managed by large consolidated corporate monopolies? I hope WiMax will come to the rescue at some time - it's been promised for a long time and the roll out has been extremely slow.

Arrest the real customer as an accessory (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 7 years ago | (#20324183)

Unless you arrest the real customer, the router vendor, the store the router came from, and the ISP as accessories, this is silly.

The real customer, for enticing someone to commit a crime.

The router vendor, for making that the default configuration.

The store for selling such a product without warning the customer in big red letters to change the configuration.

The ISP for allowing such a thing on the network.

Obviously I'm not seriously suggesting holding "everyone" or for that matter "anyone" responsible. I am suggesting that unless the person up up some kind of gate, such as even the simplest of non-default passwords, he effectively created a temporary public easement on his bandwidth.

Re:Arrest the real customer as an accessory (1)

Incensed (923206) | about 7 years ago | (#20324417)

The enticement argument doesn't hold water.

The bandwidth is an intangible resource - unlike most of the other entities referenced in the various analogies. It's not left in an unlocked vehicle with the windows down, like a stereo. It's not left sitting on a workbench in an empty garage. There's a very thin argument to be made that the mere presence of the items and their ready availability compel someone to steal them. (I'm not making that argument here.)

The curbside WiFi leech doesn't inadvertently or accidentally see the WiFi bleeding out to the curb, and having been duly enticed, whip out the notebook and start surfing.

They're looking for an open AP, with intent to connect.

Enticement implies no previous intent to take the undesired action.

That's not always true (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 7 years ago | (#20324487)

Suppose I set up my mom's laptop to connect to her home router. I'm in a hurry and don't have time to change the router, which is still in its wide-open setting with the default SSID. I'll fix it all up right tomorrow.

Mom visits her sister across town and opens her laptop to play solitaire. My mom doesn't realize it, but the background email-checker program picks up the neighbor's connection. The neighbor is using the same brand of router with the same SSID and also wide open. My computer thinks it's at home.

Mom gets arrested.

Yeah, it's contrived but it's worth considering.


netsavior (627338) | about 7 years ago | (#20324189)

Share your networks and secure your PCs that is my philosophy. I could care less if my neighbors use my connection, I would prefer it because then they will not be asking me to come over and fix theirs every day ;)

Re:my SSID is FREEINTERNET (0, Troll)

Osty (16825) | about 7 years ago | (#20324347)

I could care less if my neighbors use my connection

So you do care? (hint: If you "could" care less, you obviously do care. If you "couldn't" care less, you don't.)

I would prefer it because then they will not be asking me to come over and fix theirs every day

Ever tried saying no? I know, it's a foreign concept to many people, but unless your neighbors/friends/family are paying you to fix their connection you have no obligation to fix it for them. If they keep breaking it, they either need to learn how to fix it themselves or pay somebody to fix it for them.

Ego (4, Insightful)

Bane1998 (894327) | about 7 years ago | (#20324271)

'inability (read: apathy)' is editorializing. Which, fine, that happens on slashdot. But the idea that people have that 'if the damn users would just learn aboud WEP versus WPA, duh' is moronic. People USE computers, and may not know every detail or security concept, and they shouldn't have to. We 'techno elite' should provide the simple tools to work with confusing concepts. And we should default to good security. Which is not always possible, if you want your product to just work with the rest of yoru network.

But blaming the users and callign them apathetic? Get over yourself. Not everyone should have to or needs to know dirty security details or how to configure their router. If you MUST sustain your ego by blaming someone you can call an idiot, at least blame 'The Geek Squad' or whatever other support people set up the layman's network. Not the layman.

Enough already with the metaphors (2, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | about 7 years ago | (#20324285)

If you post a good one, someone from the other side of the argument posts a better one. Especially if there is a house involved.

How 'bout we just discuss the problem itself?

Unauthorized use? (5, Interesting)

Jorgandar (450573) | about 7 years ago | (#20324293)

Rubbish law. When you log into a network, so long as you're not hacking it, you politely ask the router "may i use this network and have an IP address?". The router says "yes", on behalf of you, the owner. Therefore it is authorized.

Its NOT the same as leaving your front door open in your house, or your car unlocked.

It IS the same as leaving your front door open in your house, having a visitor stop at the door and ask "may I come in?" and you replying "yes". You can't then turn around and sue for trespassing.


Dishonest? (2, Funny)

gweihir (88907) | about 7 years ago | (#20324519)

Since when is dishones illegal? Allmost all politicians would have a major problem if it were...

House metaphor is (1)

pembo13 (770295) | about 7 years ago | (#20324535)

The house metaphor is bad. To get to the open door, one has to enter the persons property, which is trespassing. To get the unsecured wireless, you don't have to trespass.
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