The Legality of Open Wi-Fi

The Legality of Open Wi-Fi

A British man has been arrested for connecting to someone else's unsecured wireless network without permission. According to BBC News, police saw the man using his laptop outside a house in a London neighborhood. When they asked him what he was doing, he admitted to surfing an open wifi network and they took him in. “Dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services” is an offense under Chapter 21 of the UK's Communications Act 2003

Whether using open wifi networks is illegal on this side of the pond is much less certain. The closest law on point is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was written in 1996 in response to the threat of computer hacking rather than wardriving. That Act makes intentionally accessing a computer without authorization a crime under certain circumstances, most of them related to information obtained by such access. Some people have already been arrested in the US for using open wifi networks, but those cases haven't made it before precedent-setting courts yet.

There are many passable analogies for why a person should be able to use an unsecured network (for example, it's like someone else's sprinklers sending water onto your lawn), but most of them fail at the crucial point that you're not just accepting the signal that's broadcast out from the access point – you're also sending data back, even just browsing the net, in the form of url requests. On the other hand, if you're communicating with the router and it's accepting the packets you send it, maybe that's as much authorization as you need.

 

Thumbnail photograph courtesy of Jacob Bøtter.

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Vorax

To me having your AP unsecured is the same as stringing your home phone landline out to the sidewalk and setting up the phone there.  How can it be illegal if it's right there for anyone to use?

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RDGriffinIII

Just so that it is known to all who read....
Most WiFi Routers come with a "Setup Disk" which "Sets up" a WiFi network....**INCLUDING NETWORK SECURITY FEATURES**. Yes, that means setting up WPA is as easy as 1-2-3. If, you don't want to choose to have security, go for it...but it's not recommended. That's the same as haveing door locks installed on your door by the "installer." Do you have to have door locks...not really, but it's not recommended.
It's all the same...having something open, like a door to your house/WiFi, is like saying...COME ON IN!

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yr

After reading several "it's wrong" posts, I see that there is one BIG misconception - If your neighbor blasts their stereo so loud that I can hear it in my house, am I not allowed to listen? Can't I also ask him to lower it?
If someone blasts their internet service into my living room, or even into a public area and doesn't protect it, and the "user" is not taking anything away from the "owner" of the signal, nothing wrong was done at all! The "owner" didn't lose any service. (About the wallet example, there the owner loses whatever is taken, as with the 'open front door'.)
If someone wants that people should not use their wifi, let them protect it and not broadcast it into public areas or other peoples houses (start by not broadcasting the SSID!!!) the same way that you would not (or at least shouldn't)talk on the phone about private matters in a very public area.
In short, If the owner is 'giving it out' and loses nothing by your taking, you should not have to ask so long as you do nothing illegal or malicious to the owner.

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Number Six

...to have unencrypted open APs. That's why I like to help people in my neighborhood secure their APs by logging in to their routers (with default passwords of course), enabling the highest level of encryption possilbe (WPA2 if available) with a randomly generated key, changing the admin password, changing the SSID to something clever like, "Secured by your next door neighbor Joe." When possible, I'll even upgrade the router's firmware with a custom version that doesn't have a DHCP Server.

I just love being helpful.

-[Ch]amsalot

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bholstege

But in the front door example, the front door is not broad casted into your living room.

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Cache

bholstege:

My wallet is still my wallet--whether it is in your house or not. Simply because there is an opportunity for you to take something that does not belong to you does not make it ethical, and I'm willing to bet it won't be lawful, either.

Are people stupid for not protecting their connections? Sure, no argument from me on this. But most people have difficulty understanding that there is no rich Nigerian prince who will send them money--you can't expect that everyone knows how to secure their wi-fi. Personally, I think that the process of securing one's connection must be a much simpler affair, to accommodate people who genuinely don't know how to do so.

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Crazybillybob

I'm of the school where if your packets are accepted, and you didn't dishonestly present your self to the AP (IE mac spoof..etc) then it's cool.
Why, well there are allot of places where you maybe inadvertently on someone else's network (big issue in apartments)your card picks the fastest one with the best signal. Not a big deal.. In my mind it's like a large lawn clock..I paid for it, it's on my land, and I own it...but if you can see it from your place across the street, or driving by you shouldn't be arrested for looking at it or using it to set your watch.
I can see some points to laws against it but really.
Unless your using it with the intent to commit a crime while using it (computer or other) What's the problem?

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Cache

I'm willing to admit that accidents will happen, especially in close quarters like an apartment complex. I stand by what I stated, however, in that taking bandwidth without paying for it, notifying the owner that you are using it is unwarranted and illegal.

If you really felt that you did nothing wrong, then come clean to the person who has the unsecured connection and let them know. I'm willing to bet many of the people who have open connections are not even aware they are so vulnerable. Taking advantage of someone does not equate to being legal.

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Cache

Just because the front door is unlocked does not mean I can open the door and listen to the radio for awhile. We don't live in a 'no harm/no foul' kind of world.

Ultimately it is your responsibility to be invited in before you can simply make yourself comfortable. While the laws in the US may be muddier in regards to this, ultimately the courts' view will be based on established legal precedent about private property rights.

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popstop785

Is it so hard for people to hide, encrypt and use MAC address only protection? I mean would you ever leave your car or house unlocked? no. Why? because there are to many shady people out there. Same should go for Wireless, if you DO NOT protect yourself then it is your own fault.

Now if someone uses security on their network and someone breaks/cracks it to use it then all bets are off. That should be considered breaking in.

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Cache

popstop785:

So if someone breaks into a person's house that was unlocked, they are considered to be in compliance with the law? There are a lot of people who like the convenience of wi-fi, but do not understand how to properly set it up. Guess what? I have absolutely no idea how the orbiter in my transmission works--that doesn't mean I'm giving up my car.

And it also doesn't give someone else the right to take advantage of me based solely on my lack of education in how to protect myself.

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cmichael

Yes it is true that most users don't know enough about wireless connections to secure them, but if they are responsible users, they could certainly hire someone to secure their network for them. I am often called upon to set up wireless networks for my customers and I always use WPA2 and MAC address filtering to insure that their network is as secure as possible. I also advice them to keep their OS, Anti-virus, and anti-spyware software updated. I protect my network from outside intruders and even though there are many wireless networks unsecured, I would never try to access someone else's wireless connection without their permission. This is not because it is against the law, but because it is the right thing to do.

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schneider1492

If a router accepts the packets a device sends it without the device fraudulently representing itself then i would say there is nothing wrong with that.

Its a two way street, there router did automatically connect to your device right? Right (wink)? If there filing charges then they need to file them on both sides, and thats just stupid!

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Burninator

I know that at work we have to have very cryptic, legal heavy banners on all of our network devices and computers. I was told that it was there because if you don't tell someone to stop, then they were the same as invited in. If thats the case, the AP accepting the signal means that all is good.

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lovercathi

This is why I preffer to use Toll Free Numbers rather than get things messed up with the signal and all that. Some are lousy but if you manage to find the right ones it's a really nice deal.

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