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Confessions of a Wi-Fi Thief 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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Confessions of a Wi-Fi Thief

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19, 2008 @10:46AM (#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.
  • by feenberg ( 201582 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @10:48AM (#23856713)
    Here is a link to the actual law:

    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.
  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @10:52AM (#23856821) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by Conley Index ( 957833 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @10:59AM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 19, 2008 @11:08AM (#23857217)
    I live in an apartment complex. Last month I fired up kismet (running on Fedora 9) for a week to see how bad the problem was. It found over 150(!) network, and most were either open or WEP only (with packet counts going up at regular intervals). Very few were WPA/WPA2. Now it isn't surprising that WPA2 has so little penetration but more that the message of open/WEP just isn't secure hasn't reached the masses. I bet others could chime in with similar statistics.

    - a former CISSP but still a white hat hacker.
  • Re:Not a thief (Score:2, Informative)

    by tubapro12 ( 896596 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @11:20AM (#23857483) Journal
    Leaving one's WLAN open and broadcasting is more like leaving your front door wide open and putting a neon sign that says OPEN. Maybe what is needed is regulation of who is allowed to run an open network such as a "wireless cafe permit" or something to that extent.
  • Re:Not a thief (Score:5, Informative)

    by profplump ( 309017 ) <> on Thursday June 19, 2008 @11:37AM (#23857913)
    Entering an unlocked, unposted house is not a crime, at least not in my jurisdiction. If you enter a locked house, you're breaking and entering. If you enter a house posted with no trespassing signs, or enter a house and refuse to leave after being instructed to do so by a legal resident or their agent, you are trespassing. If you simply enter a house, stand around inside, and leave when asked without breaking anything, you have committed no crime.
  • Re:Not a thief (Score:3, Informative)

    by salemnic ( 244944 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @11:41AM (#23858035)
    Oh c'mon - That _is_ a bad analogy. It would be more like your house was unlocked so I can in and made some local calls, or watched some TV.

    The taking of the stuff is where the analogy breaks down.
  • by Oktober Sunset ( 838224 ) <> on Thursday June 19, 2008 @11:43AM (#23858083)
    You can't steal something that is given to you. If a router gives me bandwidth for free, and the owner runs out of his allowance, well he shouldn't have given it all away should he?

    I have a limited supply of cakes, if I put up a sign saying free cake, then I get home and find there is no cake left for me, I can't cry that they all stole the cake. I foolishly gave away my cake. If the sign reads 'Private cake: only for eating by Oktober and his housemates' and it is locked inside a cage, then that would be a different situation. Claiming I didn't know how to configure my cake sign and I just left it with the default 'free cake' message makes no difference,
  • Re:Not a thief (Score:5, Informative)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Thursday June 19, 2008 @11:53AM (#23858315) Homepage Journal

    There is a door, in that if you don't have an IP on that WAP for whatever reason, then it's not going to pass traffic with you. Once you associate with it and get a DHCP lease, that door's wide open.

  • Re:Not a thief (Score:4, Informative)

    by zmooc ( 33175 ) <(zmooc) (at) (> on Thursday June 19, 2008 @12:10PM (#23858745) Homepage
    The terminology of DHCP is even more clear than that of a simple login-form. It OFFERS you a LEASE. Next you REQUEST permission to use that LEASE after which the server ACKNOWLEDGES you REQUEST for a LEASE to use the network. Misunderstanding this is impossible if you speak english.

    A door doesn't, it merely opens, after which you still haven't been offered, granted, requested or acknowledged permission to enter the house.
  • Mod Parent Down. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kankraka ( 936176 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @12:10PM (#23858765)
    Being 'forced' into XP due to my love of games, my primary machines have always ran it since SP1 release, even then, I used pre SP1 xp, and gradually upgraded from there. I have been using wireless since wireless B hardware became cheap enough (the 70~ dollar CAD for a NIC range) for my then after school job would allow me to afford. Never once, has windows automatically connected to the most powerful random network unless I had the AUTOMATICALLY CONNECT TO NON-PREFERRED NETWORKS box selected under the advanced properties for wireless networks. If there is no preferred network, it merely tells me some are in range, and asks me to select one if I choose to. This is how it's been since day one, that box has never been checked by default after any fresh installation either.
  • Re:Not a thief (Score:3, Informative)

    by Q-Hack! ( 37846 ) * on Thursday June 19, 2008 @12:28PM (#23859207)
  • by Oktober Sunset ( 838224 ) <> on Thursday June 19, 2008 @12:40PM (#23859463)
    If there was a sign on the bike that said 'free bike: Take me' or the $20 note had a post-it attached saying 'free money, keep me' then yes I would have no trouble in taking it.

    Just as I would see a difference between finding a book and finding a book saying 'Free Book'. If I was on my university campus and saw an unlabeled book left on a bench I would take it to lost property. If I saw a book saying 'free book', I might take it if it looked like it might be good.

    The cage around the cake is not important, the sign is the important part. If I came upon a cake with a sign saying 'Anyone may eat this cake' or with a button saying press here if you wish to eat this cake, and pressing the button gave the message 'You may eat this cake, here is your cake eating number' then I would feel it is ok for me to eat the cake. If the sign said 'Only Bob McMonkey may eat this cake' or a button to press which then asked 'are you Bob Mcmonkey?' y/n, it would be clear that taking the cake and eating it would be wrong, and telling the sign that I was Bob McMonkey would be wrong too, even though it would be easy to do.
  • Re:I don't get it (Score:2, Informative)

    by gwbennett ( 988163 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @12:40PM (#23859473) Homepage
    I did this. Had 2 routers at home, and 2 separate networks. One called public, and once called private. One day I got an email from a lady several states away saying my IP address was "stalking" her, and that she was working with law enforcement to figure out why. She already had my name, address, profession, and IP address. I replied that I had had an open network, and sent her a screenshot of the MAC addresses/host names connected at that time, and also a log of all DHCP leases that had been issued on that network the previous week. I also unplugged that router. I never heard anything more of it, but even having to "defend" myself to that extent was not worth the hassle just to be the nice guy in my apartment complex who violated COX's TOS and gave out free internet. So now it is no longer.
  • Re:Not a thief (Score:4, Informative)

    by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @01:17PM (#23860269) Homepage Journal
    No. The same FCC regulations that cover the use of that spectrum also protect people from claims of interference. You only have a claim if you can show that the equipment in use by the other person is interfering with other electronic equipment, and even then there may be limits. You cannot complain, for example, that their microwave oven, which disrupts your wireless signal because it leaks somewhat around channel 9 and you use something in the range of 6-11 inclusive, is degrading your experience because that's simply a risk that you accept when using equipment in the 2.4GHz spectrum. The same thing applies to Bluetooth and 2.4GHz phones, which can interfere with all channels, though equipment in this spectrum is generally designed to co-exist fairly well.

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