Connecting to unsecured wireless - Crime or Free Internet?

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Elixer
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Connecting to unsecured wireless - Crime or Free Internet?

Post by Elixer » Wed May 23, 2007 1:06 pm

I was wondering what you guys think of people connecting to unsecured wireless networks and using them, without supposed permission. Recently a man was arrested in the US and two different people in the UK for connecting to networks without permission. Sources:

http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/32161/118/
http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/31687/112/

I know Tom's Hardware isn't the best of sources, but this is topic needs to be debated. If you park your car in front of a coffee shop or even go into the coffee shop without buying anything is using the wireless internet illegal?

Or if your neighbor has an unsecured wireless network, is it illegal to use it? What if your computer connects to it without you knowing it?

Personally I see the internet offered at a coffee shop like a book store. Surely no one would get mad if a person went into a book store, grabbed a book and sat down and read the first 20 pages before putting the book back without buying it. The internet offered is in itself free, with the purpose to attract customers. Therefore if a person wants to connect to it, even if it's from a car outside the building, it should not be illegal to do so (even though that's a bit dodgy). If the coffee shop does not want people to connect to it like this they should enact encription or ensure that the wireless signal doesn't carry outside the building.

When it comes to home internet I'm not sure what to think. I have friends that actually purposefully leave their access points open. They're of the opinion that they don't use all of their bandwidth so anyone else is welcome to it. As I said before many computers will automatically connect to open networks so it's quite easy to use someone else's internet without realizing it. If it's possible to accidentally use the network with absolutely no intension of doing so, should it really be illegal?

What are you guy's opinions on this topic?

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Post by frostedflakes » Wed May 23, 2007 1:25 pm

I see no problem with it, as long as the user is not hogging your bandwidth (i.e. downloading large files, using peer-to-peer networks, etc.) or doing anything illegal. But if somebody just wants to connect and browse the net, watch some YouTube videos or whatever, I don't see the big deal.

I live in a rural area, so people accessing our wireless network is not an issue. But if I were in a densely populated area and had a decent internet connection, I would probably leave my network open for people to access. I would however configure my router to block P2P so they couldn't hog all my bandwidth.

There's also the issue of somebody connecting to your network and then looking up child pornography or something. Then the FBI comes knocking at your door.
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Post by qviri » Wed May 23, 2007 1:50 pm

For quick e-mail checks, absolutely! Open wireless hotspots do come in extremely handy for stuff like that or google maps. However, hogging someone else's bandwidth without their permission is not cool.

Analogy: someone asking to use your phone (landline) for a quick local call vs. someone tapping your phone line and calling phone sex lines. Old-fashioned in the cellular world, I know, but bear with me. Few people mind the first; most would oppose the second.

Of course, the matter of computer education comes in. You have to be careful as to not expose your network shares to people outside. You also have to know a bit about the security... At my dorm for instance, the majority of the networks I can see are secured, but with WEP. False sense of security, anyone?
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Post by jessekopelman » Wed May 23, 2007 2:36 pm

Is this a crime; depends on the judge. Should this be a crime; depends on the situation. In some ways this is a similar issue to whether someone walking across your lawn is committing criminal trespass. If it only happens on occasion and the walker treads lightly, no big deal. But what if dozens of people trample your lawn everyday? Goodbye grass. What if they shout while doing so, such as to disturb you and the rest of the neighborhood? What if they leave litter behind as they pass through? My own take is that one should be able to imply permission for casual use if the network is unsecured, until the owner of the network tells you otherwise (i.e. get off my lawn you damn kids!).

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Post by fri2219 » Wed May 23, 2007 3:10 pm

What people here think of it doesn't mean much.

What does matter is what they think of it in your legal jurisdiction.


Note: I distinguish between legality, morality, and ethics.
Last edited by fri2219 on Wed May 23, 2007 8:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by qviri » Wed May 23, 2007 4:57 pm

Laws are made by people.

... Okay, I'm not that naïve.

However, I can think of no special interest groups that would benefit either way from this issue.
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Post by jessekopelman » Thu May 24, 2007 6:49 pm

qviri wrote:However, I can think of no special interest groups that would benefit either way from this issue.
Carriers selling 3G/WiMAX/WiFi obviously don't want you to have free WiFi. Cable and phone companies selling DSL and the like want you to have to buy your own service, rather than sharing your neighbor's. Certain conservatives (including some people who call themselves libertarians) are freaks about the idea of property rights and find the concept of sharing (rather than charging for use) to be anathema. Companies that make WiFi gear love the idea of sharing as it will drive sales. Certain "stick it to the man" types love the idea of sharing as it screws over the evil corporations that overcharge for Internet access.

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Post by tehfire » Thu May 24, 2007 7:16 pm

In the public situation (hot spots), I believe that it's alright to bootleg the signal for your personal use. In this case, it is a public good, just as an awning outside a store is shade for anybody to use. This good is provided in the hope that someone will appreciate it and do business there. Using this product, however, does not obligate you to do business there.

On the home front, I think things are a bit different. Yes, it is in essence free, but it can be equated to a neighbor walking into your garage to use your hammer. Just because it's there doesn't mean that it's there for anybody to use. You have paid for it, so you alone have the "rights" to use the item. If you want to give it to people to use, by all means go ahead, but saying "no harm, no foul" isn't exactly bulletproof.

Just like the hammer, you should ask the owner's permission before you use it.

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Post by jessekopelman » Thu May 24, 2007 10:02 pm

tehfire wrote:Just like the hammer, you should ask the owner's permission before you use it.
This is the fundamental issue. Should you ask permission before, or should you assume you have permission until the owner tells you to stop? After all, how does it inconvenience the hammer owner for you to use it when it is otherwise idle? As with many moral questions, there is no general right answer.

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Post by andyb » Fri May 25, 2007 3:20 am

I have connected to a few unsecured wireless networks, just as a quick check to test the persons wireless.

I wouldnt hog it, or even use it for long though unless I was desperate, but as I dont own a laptop this wont happen.

Most people are actually using wireless security now anyway, so this is becoming less relevant. Those that dont or wont use wireless security are either uneducated, naive, or plain stupid.

However people going to jail for using other unprotected wireless network is pretty silly - but so are half of the laws, CPS, judges and jurors.

No long ago there was a newspaper article where a lady was fined £75 in court for throwing a fag butt on the floor, then person in court before her was fined £50 for punching someone in the face. Ridiculous.


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Post by floffe » Fri May 25, 2007 4:04 am

andyb wrote:No long ago there was a newspaper article where a lady was fined £75 in court for throwing a fag butt on the floor
*waits for an American to read that as "throwing a homosexual man down on his backside"*

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Post by nick705 » Fri May 25, 2007 4:05 am

andyb wrote: a lady was fined £75 in court for throwing a fag butt on the floor
That could be quite serious, depending on jurisdiction... :lol:

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Post by andyb » Fri May 25, 2007 6:48 am

One of these.

http://www.tri.ie/Portals/0/fag_butt.jpg

Not one of these.

http://images.scotsman.com/2006/11/13/2 ... CRUISE.jpg

Although Tom couldnt possibly be Homosexual, that would make him "ill" in the eyes of his religion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual ... cientology


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Post by JazzJackRabbit » Fri May 25, 2007 8:28 am

frostedflakes wrote:But if somebody just wants to connect and browse the net, watch some YouTube videos or whatever, I don't see the big deal.
Watching youtube is a big deal as you need at least 150-200KB/s to comfortably watch that. That's 1.5-2Mbps internet pipe and I doubt many coffee shops/barnes and nobles have 6Mbit ISP connection.

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Post by frostedflakes » Fri May 25, 2007 11:16 am

Well I was mainly referring to if I was sharing my connection personally. I'm sure if I lived in an urban area I'd have at least 5-10Mbit internet, probably up to 20-30Mbit if it was available for a reasonable price. If this was the case streaming low res video wouldn't be a big dent in the pipe. :)

But you're right that coffee shops and such probably don't have a lot of bandwidth. I'd assume they set up their access point to limit bandwidth per client, though, so somebody couldn't just load up YouTube or whatever and slow down everybody else.
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Post by jessekopelman » Fri May 25, 2007 2:12 pm

JazzJackRabbit wrote:Watching youtube is a big deal as you need at least 150-200KB/s to comfortably watch that. That's 1.5-2Mbps internet pipe and I doubt many coffee shops/barnes and nobles have 6Mbit ISP connection.
No way. YouTube is 150-200 kbps (bits not bytes). The YouTube stuff is pretty heavily encoded, that's why it is (relatively) low bitrate and why it doesn't play well on really weak processors like those found in smart phones.

The real issue is that a person's 1.5 Mbps DSL is only 1.5 Mbps peak. The average throughput of their connection may well only be 200-300 kbps and, as such, something that is a fairly constant use like YouTube could clog up the figurative pipe. Things get even worse if the wireless router supports WMM, as it might prioritize the borrower's YouTube traffic over whatever the owner is doing.

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Post by becomingone » Fri May 25, 2007 3:18 pm

if you don't do it that much, i think its fine

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Post by Rusty075 » Fri May 25, 2007 9:39 pm

I think it depends on intent, and impact.

If my neighbor intentionally leaves his wifi open and my use of it does not impact his use, then its not an issue. It's like a neighbor overwatering his lawn and the excess water running onto mine.

But, if I take steps to break into his system that he has tried to secure, then it is theft. Or if I continue to use it after he tells me not to, or after he attempts to secure it, then it crosses the line.
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Post by scdr » Fri May 25, 2007 11:35 pm

tehfire wrote: On the home front, I think things are a bit different. Yes, it is in essence free, but it can be equated to a neighbor walking into your garage to use your hammer. Just because it's there doesn't mean that it's there for anybody to use. You have paid for it, so you alone have the "rights" to use the item. If you want to give it to people to use, by all means go ahead, but saying "no harm, no foul" isn't exactly bulletproof.

Just like the hammer, you should ask the owner's permission before you use it.
IMHO Not a particularly good analogy - in general people probably don't tromp into somebody's yard/garage to use their wireless.
Most of them do it from nearby public or private space. So a better analogy might be a stereo.
If I am playing a CD and have the window open so somebody passing on the street or living nextdoor can hear it, is it theft for them to listen?

By imposing my noise onto the adjoining public or private space I am infringing on their rights. If we both enjoy it, great.
But it is my responsability to make sure it doesn't interfere with others.
Likewise with wireless, if I don't want to share, then I shouldn't be polluting your space with my signals.
(And even if I do want to share, it is my responsability to only let my signals leak into your space with your permission,
so they don't interfere with your use of the space.)

So the person who is spraying their signals about is doubly to blame.
Thay may be on iffy footing with regards to the material they are sharing (copyright restritctions on the CD, or the contract for their internet service) - but that isn't the problem of the neighbor.
And they are polluting the adjoining area with their signals.
Letting the neighbor use those signals is the least they can do by
way of recompense for use of the neighbors space.

So the permission should go both ways - I should ask permission to
play my "radio," in the surrounding space, and it wouldn't hurt if they asked permission to use the signals.


Rather reminds me of the story of the man who used to eat his rice by the food vendor's stall. Upon hearing that the smell of the cooking made the man's rice more savory, the vendor demanded payment.
The wise judge decided the payment should be the sound of money.

(I am of course aware that most legislators and judges are not so wise ;-)

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Post by Erssa » Sat May 26, 2007 12:03 am

"Connecting to unsecured wireless - Crime or Free Internet?"

Ok, I'm in a hurry so I didn't bother reading the responses, so sorry if I'm repeating...

I see it this way, it's ok to share it as long as it's not used to invade privacy or used in any other malicious activities. I could see, that many people would actually want to share their internet, especially if it's not in use. It's kind of like giving a lift to a hitchhiker. If you don't want other people to use your wireless, there's a quick fix to it.
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Post by dragmor » Sun May 27, 2007 7:19 pm

In Oz it is illegal to use someone elses wireless unless your are given express permission (digital tresspass). A DHCP response giving you an IP is not counted as permission.

Which sort of makes sense given our low download allowance and $x/mb over or throttled to 64/64. Also the owner of the wireless connection is responsible for any content downloaded from their connection. So you get hit for any illegal activity, hence you dont want strangers using your wireless.

At least the legal profession is admiting its not capable of dealing with this stuff. There was a judge recently that passed a case to someone else since he didnt know what the internet was and was getting confused by the case.

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Post by AND_YOU_ARE » Sun May 27, 2007 7:59 pm

The two articles that were linked to by the OP show stupid people getting caught. When you sit in a car outside a coffee shop or some one's home and use their internet, its going to attract attention which causes you to get caught. Yes it is illegal, but if you do it discreetly you don't ever have to worry about getting caught. If you live in a suburban or urban community and you connect to your neighbor's connection you can get away with it much longer compared to sitting in your car in front of a house or shop.

It is legal to sniff out different unsecured connections, but it is illegal to connect to them with out permission. With the average home owner not knowing a whole lot about their wireless network, and you don't do anything stupid or obvious, you would never have to worry about getting caught. Stupid people get caught.

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Post by Max Slowik » Sun May 27, 2007 9:36 pm

It's not illegal here in Denver unless it's an encrypted or password-protected signal, and I'm under the impression that Denver's no exception in the US. Essentially, if you don't ask for permission, it's assumed to be given.

Frankly, I don't see how any kind of use (even heavy vs. light) should be valued differently. If you're (effectively) giving away bandwidth, you shouldn't be upset that there are greedy people out there. I don't see how checking your email or researching weapons of mass destruction, (i.e. pr0n) or even torrenting makes any valid difference.

I mean, when I give money to bums I don't care what they buy. It's a freakin' gift, and if I was homeless, I'd probably want to get sloshed a whole lot more often.
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Post by teknerd » Sun May 27, 2007 9:51 pm

I'm honestly quite surprised by the responses that people are posting.

It is not ok to connect to someone's private wireless network without their permission: legally or morally. It does not matter if you are only quickly checking your email or looking up directions (thats like saying, its fine if i steal this guys car as long as i get it back to him before he needs it).

If a coffee shop provides a wireless connection for free and you use it without purchasing something, thats a risk they run (the same as putting up an awning or leaving tables outside the establishment). However i find it ridiculous that people try to comparing someone asking to use your phone with pirating your neighbor's wireless connection: there is a huge glaring difference: Whether or not you ask permission.
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Post by nick705 » Mon May 28, 2007 3:29 am

Max Slowik wrote:It's not illegal here in Denver unless it's an encrypted or password-protected signal, and I'm under the impression that Denver's no exception in the US. Essentially, if you don't ask for permission, it's assumed to be given.
This seems completely bizarre - it's like saying if you go out leaving your front door unlocked, you're automatically giving legal entitlement to any passing stranger to walk into your home, sit on your sofa, turn on your TV, help themselves to your drinks cabinet and enjoy a night's sleep in your bed.

From what I understand of American society, such behaviour would be inviting a bullet between the eyes, backed up by the full weight of the law.

It's not even as though it's a victimless crime - these days, many (most?) home DSL connections are subject to caps, throttling, fair use policies and so on, so there's a definite material loss involved (or at least the potential for one). Whichever way you look at it, you're taking something that doesn't belong to you, which someone else has paid for and without their permission, and the fact that they may be stupid enough to make it easy for you doesn't excuse the theft itself.

Even if it's not a crime under the law, it's extremely bad manners at the very least.

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Post by klankymen » Mon May 28, 2007 5:47 am

I disagree though. I think it is not a crime, nor a sin, to use unprotected internet. if someone puts a website on the internet, but doesn't put a password on the site, he accepts that anyone that finds it can read it.

In a similar vein, if someone installs a RJ-45 ethernet jack on the sidewalk in front of his house, anyone who finds it should be elegible to use it.

If you broke into a person's house, or tresspassed his property to use his w-lan, granted that's bad. and if you used some kind of program or algorithm to hack his security, also bad.
but if the person lets the w-lan waves leave his property, that is his problem.

same as with coffee shops. sitting down inside and using your laptop but not buying is bad, but in the parking lot... unless there's a sign that says no parking except for customers, you're doing nothing wrong.
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Post by jhhoffma » Mon May 28, 2007 6:03 am

The US incident actually happened just a few miles away from me. It's been kind of big news here because nothing like this has ever been done. The big difference here is that the offender did not have permission and never went into the coffee shop that had the connection. He was not a patron. The Wi-Fi access was for patrons only. The arresting officer was actually the police chief of Sparta, MI who noticed the guy sitting inside his car all day long. He actually talked to the offender for a while and asked him what he was doing, etc. Then came back the next day (or later) and arrested him.

I think if you want you connection to be available to everyone (and it doesn't violate your TOS from your ISP) then it's fine if everyone takes a little bandwidth. However, if you do not intend for people to have access to your network (then you should secure it in the first place), then it it not ok for anyone to take bandwidth. How are you to know the difference? Ask permission...
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Post by Elixer » Mon May 28, 2007 6:30 am

nick705 wrote:Whichever way you look at it, you're taking something that doesn't belong to you, which someone else has paid for and without their permission, and the fact that they may be stupid enough to make it easy for you doesn't excuse the theft itself.
I actually share this view. The problem is that the same people who will setup a wireless network without thinking about security and leaving it open are likely to leave their computers setup to connect to any open network and then connect to their neighbor's connection without thinking about it. This is no excuse however - you shouldn't be using wireless if you don't know at least a thing or two about it.

Personally I think that if the government were to institute a law for this it should only be a small fine. The guy who recieved a $400 fine + community service seems like a way too harsh punishment for the something like this. Howver cracking someone's WEP/WPA is a whole different story.

The problem with the arguement that you have a 'right' to all of the radio waves on your property is that there is no reasonable way for your neightbor to prevent his radio waves from coming onto your property. With a well aimed 24Dbi directional antenna you can literally pick up and use wireless connections from miles away.

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Post by Max Slowik » Mon May 28, 2007 7:07 am

nick705
From what I understand of American society, such behaviour would be inviting a bullet between the eyes, backed up by the full weight of the law.
Well, that's stereotypical and totally inaccurate; up until recently, and still in rural places, it's perfectly reasonable to ask to stay the night or share dinner with complete strangers, ask for a ride, whatever. But that is neither here nor there. (By the way, did you know that the UK has a higher murder rate than the US? It's all bats and knives. . .)

Elixer
The problem with the arguement that you have a 'right' to all of the radio waves on your property is that there is no reasonable way for your neightbor to prevent his radio waves from coming onto your property.
This has more to do with it than you'd expect: the US has many laws protecting the use of broadcast frequencies as technically they all belong to the government. We simply receive fair use. By using WiFi, you are literally giving away your rights.

This butts heads when encryption laws and computer tampering laws come into play, because it's highly illegal to do either. Keep in mind that these laws were for the most part written when encryption was only for banks and the Fed and telegraphs were common; tampering with these obviously meant that you were up to something bad and the punishments were fair.

Now there's a gap, because the usage is different.

nick705
it's like saying if you go out leaving your front door unlocked, you're automatically giving legal entitlement to any passing stranger to walk into your home
This is a bad analogy, because you don't live in your router. Your computer doesn't either; it's more like leaving something of marginal value on the sidewalk. It's not right for someone to pick it up and take it, but, then again, it's not at all illegal.
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Post by qviri » Mon May 28, 2007 9:39 am

teknerd wrote:It is not ok to connect to someone's private wireless network without their permission: legally or morally. It does not matter if you are only quickly checking your email or looking up directions (thats like saying, its fine if i steal this guys car as long as i get it back to him before he needs it).
I do not think of an internet connection as a car... it's more like air to me :)

And anyway, if they get it back to me in the exact same condition, to the point where I can't tell they took it (obviously not possible in reality due to odometer), then what difference does it make? If it helped them make it to an appointment, power to them.
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