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Is stealing wi-fi really stealing?

by Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

The arrest of a man in London for "stealing" wi-fi signals raises some intriguing questions, some brought forth by the BBC. In a nutshell, the fellow got busted by police for connecting to somebody else's unsecured wi-fi network with his laptop. He's at least the third person in London to be arrested for using an internet service without permission. He may have contravened the British Communications Act of 2003 and the Computer Misuse Act.

How this progresses through the courts is going to be very interesting.

So far, nobody has been reported to have been arrested for the same thing in Canada, which is good because it would probably spark a legal mess. The crux of the issue is that anyone who sets up a wi-fi network has the option of encrypting it to keep out freeloaders. Sure, these protections can be cracked fairly readily, but not by the average Joe. Nevertheless, if the person setting up the network chooses not to encrypt it, it should be fair game for whoever wants to connect to it.

Some organizations and companies, such as airports or cafes, have set up public wi-fi hotspots that are free for anyone to use, which is bound to further confuse the matter. After all, how is the user supposed to know whether the wi-fi network they're connecting to is free and open, or if its administrator has simply forgotten to encrypt it?

Should the onus of keeping people out be on the network provider? Click on the Comments link below and share your thoughts.

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Comments

Dwight Williams

Additionally, there are non-profit community groups - such as Ottawa-Gatineau Wi-Fi - looking to set up networks of publicly accessible "hotspots" for any and all to use at need. A good idea, I believe, deserving of support even if it does risk further adding to this confusion.

Posted August 23, 2007 07:22 PM

Mike Pisio

Brandon

I think the onus should be 100% on the owner of the wifi signal. It is so easy nowadays to encrypt the signal, that anyone can do it. If someone breaks encryption to access a system, THEN and only then should they be considered to be committing a crime. This is the same as breaking encryption to access satellite or cable signals. Over the air TV is free and legal for anyone to see, but if you have to break encryption on a signal, then it is illegal. Same should apply to WIFI.

Posted August 23, 2007 09:55 PM

Pierre M. Laberge

I have a question, and I hope you will forgive my technical ignorance....

Let us suppose I had, say 3 computers at home, and set up a wireless network. Let us say I forget, or do not know how to encrypt it.

Let us suppose my neighbor does the same.

Then let us assume that my machines pick up the signals off his network better than mine, say, when I go out on my back deck with my laptop.

How would I know which wireless network my computer was using?

Or let us say I was picking up signals from a public, free, network, at a local cafe.

How would I know? Could I possibly accused and/or arrested and/or fined for signal theft?

If I had such a network, how would I know, how could I prove my neighbor was willingly and knowingly, and repeatedly using my signals to surf the internet?

I take it for signal theft to be a chargable offense you would have to know you were doing it, and to be doing it on purpose, and more than on just one accidental occasion?

Would not the providers of either my network eqiopment or software, or even my signal provider (the internet service provider) not have some liability in this matter, themselves???

After all, they are the exoerts, the tehcnicians, the geeks. Would they not have some sort of "duty of care" to protect me, or help me protect myself?

We are not all software engineers or whatever.

I may seem ignorant, but I am just asking.


Posted August 24, 2007 12:33 AM

Stephane

Ottawa

Well I tend to believe stealing wifi isn't actually stealing. The case would become somewhat illegal if the frealoader attend to change any information on the computer or router of the owner of the wifi. I personally encrypt my router with a 128bit WEP encryption. It is also common for some corporation or organization to not encrypt their network (which makes you wonder why?). I saw the report about this on W-five ; if my memory serve me well. I'm using Linux (Ubuntu) and am able to encrypt my hard drive with a 256bit encrytion (although I haven't done so). I am also able to set up OpenVPN, CiscoVPN (Virtual private network) directly from my laptop or from a router. In closing, if stealing information on the wifi network is done; this would be illegal. As to hopping on a unencrypted network, I guess this falls somewhat in a gray area; from a legal standpoint.

Posted August 24, 2007 07:51 AM

Garet

Winnipeg

I steal Wifi when it's convienient. If they didn't want it stolen, they should secure it.

And if they really didn't want it stolen, they'd change the default router passwords.

Posted August 24, 2007 08:09 AM

Kelly Thomas

I agree with the writer of this article. If a network administrator chooses to not encrypt his network he willingly gives permission for anyone to connect to it. And likewise, if encrypted, it's best to not try to get into something that we're not supposed to be into.

On the other hand, as users, and someone who may connect to unprotected wireless networks, it is within our scope of responsibility reasonably try to find the owner of said network and ask permission to connect, or at least identify yourself.

For example. When a coffee shop has a wireless network for customers to use, it's just for that, customers. Not the guy out in the parking lot and not the guy who lives next door. By entering the coffee shop and at least setting up your computer you have reasonably identified yourself to be using that wireless network.

Why would this same rule not apply to apartments, condos, and other private and public places where wireless networks are found? Invariably they are popping up almost everywhere with the advent of wireless routers sub-$100.

Better policing is not required. Instead let's practice greater personal responsibility and accountability to one another.

Posted August 24, 2007 08:46 AM

Sean

Winnipeg

The action of actually encrypting the network SHOULD fall under the responsability of the owner of the wireless device, and anyone who finds an un-encrypted connection should be able to use it freely but should be liable for telling the host, assuming they know who the host is.

Posted August 24, 2007 10:08 AM

Dennis Maione

The onus of security needs to be on the network provider, not on the consumer. Although it is clear that some people will provide WiFi to their neighbourhood unwittingly, that is not the fault of those who might use such a free service because it is there. This is not like stealing electricity or water from a neighbour, where there is a direct cost for my action. Rather, this is like being prosecuted for walking on a sidewalk on my own property which my neighbour has unwittingly cleared of snow not realizing where my property line is. It is simply not my fault that he has provided me with this service and I should not be held accountable for using it. Having said all that, people should educate themselves when installing WiFi to ensure that they are securing properly, unless, of course, they plan to provide a public service to those around them.

Posted August 24, 2007 10:15 AM

Greg Sullivan

Forest

The onus should definitely be on the provider, I wonder if the police were responding to a complaint from the provider in any of these cases and if so they should just have told them to lock the signal and saved everyone a bunch of time.
If they don't encrypt the signal than how can you say someone stole it? If its encrypted and someone breaks the encryption to steal the signal thats obviously a different story but if its open than by all means everyone should be able to use it. If you don't want freeloaders just put a password in, most people wont even bother trying to guess your password and will just give up.

Posted August 24, 2007 10:43 AM

Shawn

Winnipeg

When you subscribe to an internet service you are responsible for any data received or sent through that connection. If you hook up equipment to transmit that signal wirelessly and your neighbour/someone driving around gets on your network and downloads illegal content such as child pornography. You are liable. Plus if you do not have your network secured someone could download this plus potentially hide it somewhere on your computer whithout your knowledge. There are a few companies that offer wireless network installations who if they are doing their jobs will enable the encryption and make sure it isn't an easy passkey to guess and change the router password plus setup a wireless SSID to something that is not related to the user (too many people use their last names as wireless SSID's). Yes there are people who can still break in, but this is at least a good defence. This is why when you sign up for an internet service very few companies will install a wireless device simply because of the potential liability/problems that they can come with.

Posted August 24, 2007 12:15 PM

Nune

Kitchener

I think it is stealing even though I do it myself sometimes when on the road, ableit only briefly (I wouldn't download huge amounts of data). Why a crime?
If I bike to the corner store and leave it unlocked outside, I should understand the risk, but isn't it still a crime for someone to take it?
And in response to one of the comments, I think that it is indeed like stealing your neighbor's hydro/water. We do pay for bandwidth.

-Guilty

Posted August 24, 2007 12:57 PM

Garet

Winnipeg

I think 10 years ago, people paid for bandwidth. Now, you pay 30 bucks a month or whatever, and have unlimited downloads. I bet in my house, we download over 500 gigs of stuff a month.

When we were with our previous provider, many years ago, we got kicked off for downloading too much.

Posted August 24, 2007 01:27 PM

Paul McClafferty

I agree with those saying that if a person wants his wifi secure, he should encrypt it. That being said, the provider of the router, whether it's an ISP or a hardware manufacturer, should provide instructions on how to encrypt your signal. Aliant provided a free wireless router when I got my broadband and helped me encrypt my signal without me even asking.

Posted August 24, 2007 03:24 PM

Tom

Vancouver

The onus of security should be spread evenly around between the router owner, network provider, and the router manufacturer. Most people seem to think that the router owner actually knows how to use their router properly. But in reality I'm pretty sure even a lot of people who claim they know how to use a a router does not fully understand all it's functions.

Here's an example: Enabling encryption on a router is relatively easy. The problem is that most newer router come with atleast two encryption protocols WEP and WPA. But do most people know the difference. They're both encryption protocols for Wifi, however one of them can be cracked within 3 minutes (without knowing the password) All they need is a laptop with a wifi card and a free easily obtainable software downloaded from the internet.

Another example is the SSID beacon. Why are people even broadcasting the SSID beacon? The SSID essentially tells the world that the router is "here". It's convenient for setting up computers. But it is no longer needed after all the computers that are going to be using the Wifi is configured. If you turn off the SSID beacon, the wifi network will become hidden. People will not actively try to steal an internet connection that can not be seen.

Some routers have other security features like mac filtering. The problem is that a lot of people don't read or understand the entire manual.

Router manufacturers leave most of these security functions disabled to make it easier for the owner to set up the network. But the default settings are nearly always insecure.

That's why the onus of security should be spread between the owner, net provider, and the manufacturer.

The net provider needs to educate the owners on network security. The manufacturer needs to make it easier to understand the security functions of the router. And owner needs to talk and listen to somebody that truly knows how to setup a network.

Posted August 24, 2007 03:36 PM

Bernard King

I agree that the owner has onus to lock their access points, however, it is still wrong to use the bandwidth of a known private access point. If you are on the 17th floor of a building next to no known commercial establishments, it's pretty safe to say that all the access points you see are probably private whether or not encryption is enabled.

To say that it's fair game to use any unlocked networks is like saying it's fair game to walk into someones house and use their washrooms simply because the door was unlocked.

Users have to do some homework here on whether their access point is public.

Posted August 24, 2007 05:42 PM

Nune

Kitchener

Sorry, when I say bandwidth I'm referring to speed. I don't mean the limited amount of data capped per month (I get 60GB/mth, which I'll never use up). I pay for only the speed package that I need for Skype VOIP and know that if something else (e.g. internet radio) is moving data then both applications suffer. If someone else "steals" my service (while I'm using it) I would expect the same degradation.
Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken on that. (I don’t know because my Wi-Fi is encrypted, so I don’t think I have that problem.)

Posted August 24, 2007 05:50 PM

Paul Klaassen

This seems to me to be more akin to trespassing than theft. If I have a piece of property whose boundaries are not clearly marked as private, I could hardly expect people to stay off of it. Most laptops come preloaded with software that will automatically connect to any available network with just a prompt or two at most. I know exactly what I am connecting to but not everyone has the inclination or the ability to understand such things.
Furthermore, it has always seemed to me that if you are allowed to shoot radio waves through me, I should be allowed to use them as I see fit. It is your responsiblity to prevent that if you need to, just as you would need to erect a fence at the border of your property if you expect me not to wander on to it.

Posted August 25, 2007 01:07 AM

Retired Guy

Ottawa

"Nevertheless, if the person setting up the network chooses not to encrypt it, it should be fair game for whoever wants to connect to it."

This is insane! If I leave my door unlocked, then all the stuff in my house is fair game for burglars? Don't be silly.

Posted August 25, 2007 10:32 AM

Laurent Elder

Ottawa

For there to be stealing, you could assume that property is being "taken' from one individual by another. Many advocates and experts of a productive and egalitarian knowledge society (as we purport ourselves to be) see wifi networks as "public goods", due to that fact that once it has been produced, everyone can benefit from it without diminishing someone's else's enjoyment. The person using the bike example doesn't seem to understand this notion. When someone uses your wifi network, it generally doesn't diminish your use, or cost you more (this is why the snow shoveling example was right on). The onus should definitely be on the owner of the wifi network to open or close his network: having an open network (as I do), should simply be an invitation to share (which I am happy to do). In rare instances, when people use someone else's network for illicit purposes, there are technical means that can demonstrate which computer is at fault. As for bandwidth hogs, who might reduce my access speed; for the past 7 years I've had an open wifi network, it has never been an issue and I'm a ferquent Skype user. BTW, in many countries using Skype is considered "stealing" from the telecom operator.

Posted August 25, 2007 11:48 AM

Jay

I will have to disagree with Garet about paying for bandwidth. Here in Ontario if you sign up with Bell Canada, who is a major phone, TV & internet company in this region, you are capped at 60GB no matter what you sign up for.

I was told that if I wanted unlimited bandwidth I would need to sign up for a business account which costs significantly more than a home account.

I have a wireless router hooked up to this service, it is locked via WPA with a 63 character key. I have also changed the default SSID, enabled MAC filtering and changed the default login. I am very confident that nobody will be breaking into my network.

Posted August 25, 2007 02:41 PM

K Dawson

Peterborough,ON

Silly little cash grab and a big fat time waster for the courts.

With all of the trouble going on in the world today it never ceases to amaze me at the different ways the courts - and law - waste both our time and taxpayers dollars.

K.Dawson

Posted August 25, 2007 09:42 PM

m hadi

Toronto

Suppose I leave my car unlocked with the windows open. Does that give passerbys the right to enter and sit inside?

If I use wireless streaming for my video signal (TV) and do not secure it, is it OK for the neighbours to pick it up and use it?

From anecdotal evidence, the majority of people don't really know how to set up computer systems in general, and are not aware of the different settings available to computer systems. Even I ask myself, am I missing something? Is my network really secure?

Using another persons resources or property without their knowledge should be punishable. The law states that ignorance is not a defence. If you do not know whether a wireless signal is available for free or not, you need to ask the owner or not use it.

Posted August 26, 2007 09:55 AM

Robert

Ottawa

I think that I will just have a picnic on your front yard. Which is OK because if you did not want me to use your fromt yard you would have put up a fence. It may not be stealing but it is trespasing.

Posted August 26, 2007 11:55 AM

LW Naylor

Stratford

Were my house robbed, NO break-and-enter (B&E) is deemed to have occurred if my front door was left unlocked and that's how they entered.

Ditto for unsecured WI-FI networks.

Posted August 26, 2007 12:30 PM

Adam

Manitoba

Like others, it's the responsibility of the owner to encrypt it. In this day and age, everyone knows someone who's good with computers and can help them set up encryption.

At the same time, I appreciate those who do share internet, and who are close to airports, because of the dozen or so airports I've been to, Columbus, Ohio is the only one with free internet. If I"m there for 40 minutes, I can't justify $10/hour for internet.

Posted August 26, 2007 03:37 PM

Rob Maguire

The idea that using a publicly available wifi network is theft of private property is patently absurd. Plenty of individuals and organization intentionally share their wifi access; others encrypt their networks to keep their connections private. I would prefer to assume that those with unencrypted networks are generous, not stupid.

I wonder if the British police are going to lay charges against the many tech companies that offer keychains and other gizmos that locate unencrypted wifi signals. It's the only logical next step in an illogical crusade against wireless internet users.

Posted August 26, 2007 10:10 PM

Andrew

Richmond

It is entirely the responsibility of the owner of a wireless router to secure it against outside access if that is his desire. All such routers now come with that capability, and an instruction manual, and there are many independent technical service outfits out there, so ignorance is no excuse. To not do so is simply inviting others to use it as well, and it would be especially troublesome if they were using the connection for reasons other than mere web surfing.
While such use may technically be theft, so is music piracy... and we know how well that gets prosecuted.

Posted August 27, 2007 12:54 AM

mt

Ottawa

I've always looked at this issue from the point of view that if one needs to put out extra effort to find the signal, then it is stealing. But if a signal is being broadcast into my home without my asking for it, and there is no protection on it then that is another story.
Think about it. If someone came into your home, without your invitation, and simply left a pizza on your kitchen table, would it be stealing if you ate a slice? The pizza isn't your property, but it's in your home!
Forget trying to drop responsibility on the ISPs and manufacturers - if you don't have the techncial ability to set up your connection properly then find someone that does! Whatever happened to personal accountability?

Posted August 27, 2007 07:36 AM

Charlie Bear

Ontario

Garet, if you're downloading 500 gigs a month of "stuff" then you seriously need to limit yourself better. Computers can only hold so much and I have no idea how many you've gone through already with that kind of downloading.

In other news, if theft of wi-fi is the reason my net is slow, I wish I knew enough about technology to put a passcode on my system.

Posted August 27, 2007 09:11 AM

Wilbur

McCreary

Can't see it being criminal, so long as the free loader does not take total control of the wi-fi network.

Posted August 27, 2007 10:34 AM

Garet

Winnipeg

6 or so computers in my house, and 7 people adds up easily.

Posted August 27, 2007 11:02 AM

D Partrick

That an unencrypted network, or an unlocked door, is an easy access point, does not make the stepping across the threshold any less intrusive or a violation of property rights.

Respect for property rights should be assumed, not something requiring constant vigilance. While I was growing up, my parents told me, "That's not yours, leave it alone." What happened to that ideal? Today there is a pervasive sense of entitlement. Now everything is up for grabs and we're grabbing all we can. I'm all for sharing, but that assumes two willful acts, giving and taking.

If your neighbours' networks are open, tell them. Offer to help secure the networks. Respect. It's about respect.

Posted August 27, 2007 11:25 AM

b9u4ea

Elsewhere

In circumstances where a provider of a signal has put forth no due diligence in safeguarding the signal, or contents within the signal, from eavesdropping or third party use, would it be unreasonable to expect protection? I’m of the opinion that it would most certainly be. Additionally, in the case of a broadcast signal, I would find it hard to accept any significant fiscal loses on behalf of the signal provider. If a provider is not willing put forth effort to protect the resource, then why should I? If a signal, which I can readily interpret, is being broadcast onto my property, into my home, and especially through my body, why should it be considered theft? Directional, unicast, reduced wattage/amplitude, etc… are all reasonable methods, available to any provider of a signal, to avoid such so called theft. If a provider is not willing to incur the additional costs to implement an appropriate solution which reduces their exposure, then is this signal or the contents being carried over it, of any substantial value to the provider? Their own actions suggest not.

Posted August 27, 2007 12:44 PM

Garet

Winnipeg

D Patrick

It's not like an unlocked door really. How can someone leave an unlocked door in your house?

Posted August 27, 2007 02:49 PM

Caitlin

Winnipeg

If there is no detriment to the service of the wireless provider, and no invasion of privacy (hacking, etc.), then I don't see the problem. You don't have to have wireless internet in your house, you can have it hardwired if you like, then you will have it all to yourself! Wireless is a form of convenience, and convenience comes at a price. It's the same with e-mail- it is not considered secure, but it is relatively secure, and you use your own judgement.

Posted August 27, 2007 03:01 PM

Yang

Saskatoon

Haha, I love this discussion.

If I really needed to go to the washroom and your door was open and I was desperate enough to use your washroom, I hope you can understand and forgive me! This is an absolutely relevant example as I have been lost in a big city and hoped desperately that there was an open wireless connection so I can access on-line maps. And no, I couldn't just get out of my car and ask, it was NOT an option.

Whoever compared it to trespassing, by the same argument your signal is also trespassing into other people's homes and on to public property. Kinda bring into mind noise bylaws.

I wonder if there is an age/job gap to the answers. Poll a bunch of college students (especially engineering/comp sci), business travelers and they will probably say that you should protect your network if you didn't want people to use it. I am both so that's what I would say.

Posted August 27, 2007 06:27 PM

D Partrick

These are some of the same excuses used to justify piracy of software, music, and movies. "It's so easy." "It's not hurting anyone." It still isn't right.

I won't swim in my neighbour's pool just because the gate is unlocked (it's not hurting them), I won't borrow the mower if the garage is open (even if I intend to fill the tank), and I won't steal access to the internet, just because I can. I sleep well at night.

Yes, my WI-FI network is secured. At least as well as I know how to.

Posted August 27, 2007 06:55 PM

Gilles

Sudz

If You do not know how to set up your wireless router then get someone to do it for you. Wireless signals can be easily protected and have restricted access. If you do not secure your wireless network then if you ask me you're giving permission for others to connect.

Posted August 28, 2007 08:28 AM

jm

Ottawa

How many of you put locks on faucets on the outside of your house? What would you do if your neighbour hooked up a hose and filled their pool with water from your house that you pay for?

Absolutely no difference with someone stealing wifi.

What if you left some object sitting on your front lawn, unsecured? If someone took it, you'd call it theft and the law would agree.

Just because a wireless signal and internet access are less tangible doesn't make it ok to take what isn't yours.

Posted August 28, 2007 10:17 AM

Blaine Gaouette

Ottawa

If the intent is to steal wi-fi signals, then it's stealing. Obviously, we should do what we can to protect ourselves, but it's unrealistic to believe that there is a significant level of computer literacy to accomplish this.

Posted August 28, 2007 12:39 PM

Average Geek

This is for the Average Joe/Jane Schmo.

If you own a wireless router and you do not want other people on it, you should secure it. Use a combination of encryption or filtering by hardware address and disable SSID broadcasting so it doesn't get detected by default on every laptop that runs through your "air space".

Of course, nothing is fail-safe. If someone wants to get in badly and had the know-how, then they might be able to if your security isn't very good or if they're exceptionally good/motivated hackers.

Your wireless signal is your house. The encryption is your doors. The encryption key is... well, a key. The filters are your family/guest list. And disabling the broadcast makes your house more-or-less invisible.

Now what about the house that leaves all it's doors and windows wide open? Not only that, but they also have a big sign on the side of the house that says "Cookies baked here 24/7". Do they have the right to complain if someone comes in and steals their cookies? Sure, they might have the right; but if they weren't sending out wave after wave of that sweet sweet smell, then maybe no one would notice their cookie haven and they'd be left alone.

If you don't have your computer configured properly, you may accidently connect to hotspots as you pass through them because of a "Automatically detect and connect" setting that is set on the OS.

Is it stealing if it's clearly being thrown at you?

Posted August 28, 2007 01:14 PM

Garet

Winnipeg

The difference is, this is nothing like taking something from somebody elses home. It is them brodcasting into your home.

Posted August 28, 2007 01:22 PM

Retired Guy

Kanata

Laurent Elder wrote: "Many ... [socialists] ... see wifi networks as 'public goods', due to that fact that once it has been produced, everyone can benefit from it without diminishing someone's else's enjoyment."

Nonsense. The potential bandwidth is immediately cut in half, and if the monthly cap is exceeded there is an extra charge. There is wear and tear on equipment, especially if the network is routed throught a home server.

Where does this culture of entitlement come from?

Posted August 28, 2007 02:06 PM

jv

to

I often leave my WiFi open to those who need it. I know when I'm mobile, finding a free signal is a great boon and I quietly thank those who offer it.

Unfortunately the paranoid and uneducated masses will see this as theft. Even though most of them wouldn't notice if 5-10 additional people were logged into their network.

There are numerous and easy-to-use tools (which come with your router) to either secure WiFi or manage outside users accessing your network.

And now, because of these same people, those of us who try to provide safe, open and free internet to our community will be left out to dry. Nice one...


Posted August 28, 2007 02:45 PM

Don

So, my nieghbour puts up a yardlight so that he can work anywhere in his yard and he doesn't block it from my yard. Is it illegal for me to read the newspsper by that light? Obviously illegal for me to remove the block. And what about the streetlight? And if I were the owner of the yard light....?

Posted August 28, 2007 03:45 PM

DED

Canada

So many of you compare "stealing" WiFi to making use of your neighbour's property without asking, i.e., swimming pools, faucets, cars, bicycles, etc. The problem with this comparison is that the items listed are tangible and often on your neighbour's property. You must physically trespass to access them. Radio waves emitted by WiFi or Cell Phones, Baby Monitors, Cordless Phones, etc., on the other hand, usually trespass onto your neighbour's property. While the idea of using someone else's bandwidth leaves a bad taste in my mouth (and no, I don't use WiFi - yet), it is imperative that people realise that ANY radio transmission can be intercepted and monitored by a third party that may or may not have nefarious motives for doing so. If all they are doing is listening, you'll never know they're there!

I wonder: How many are opposed to "stealing" WiFi yet simultaneously "steal" satellite broadcasts? And how many would argue it's okay to intercept satellite broadcasts and watch the programming, since the radio waves from the satellite trespass on your property? Personally, I believe that is a legitimate argument. But the knife cuts both ways...

Posted August 28, 2007 03:46 PM

Blaine

Ottawa

What happens when it involves illegal downloading or child porn?

Posted August 28, 2007 04:05 PM

S Leung

Vancouver

I don't completely agree with Tom on spreading the responsibility around. If someone gets a router, they should learn how to use it properly, otherwise, what's the point? Sure, the ISP and the router manufacturer can educate and make it easier, but you'd be amazed at the number of people who don't bother to follow through on the advice. It follows that old saying: you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. For me, responsibility should remain with the owner.

Posted August 28, 2007 04:19 PM

Doug Rutherford

I'm fascinated by some of the comments here, running along the lines of "it isn't stealing" and "you should know how to configure your router."

Here, we've had several cases of local theft of internet, resulting in monthly bills above $1,0000. If I took $1,0000 from the wallet of some of the criminals saying that it isn't theft, would they be singing the same tune. As for those who can configure your router, can you change the head gasket in your car? Maybe you shouldn't be allowed to drive if you can't.

Bottom line, as a trainer of technicians, I am fully aware of the propensity of computer sales staff to happily sell wireless routers to those who are not aware of the security implications. Anyone who is willing to exploit that DESERVES jail time, along with other thieves.

Posted August 28, 2007 05:19 PM

Jeff Lewis

I'm appalled by many of the posts here arguing that the owner of the router has all or even some of the obligation to block his or her system to prevent others from using it.

First off, most services in Canada are not unlimited - they have various caps either in speed or total monthly usage. So right off, if you're using someone's Internet without their permission - you are indeed consuming a limited resource - which is theft. It's just as simple as that.

The only legitimate counterargument is that the person in question has the same SSID as yours and so you were using it in error - but that would mean either you picked a very trivial SSID (which makes you as much at fault as the other guy) or you've left yours set to the default (which makes you EXACTLY as much at fault, if his is also set to the default SSID).

All the other arguments I've seen stem from a rather immoral view that anything that's not nailed down - even when you KNOW it's not yours, is fair game to run off with. That's a sad, sad position to be arguing from.

This is like arguing that if I leave my front door unlocked, I've given you permission to come in, cook some food, watch TV and perhaps take some of my clothes. Yes, I *should* lock my door - but I shouldn't *have* to. People should have enough ethics and decency not to do this in the first place. Place the blame where it belongs - with the thieves, not with the victims.

Pathetic.

Posted August 28, 2007 06:14 PM

Barry

Ontario

If I can hear you sing from the other side of the river am I doing wrong?

If I press record and later play buttons am I doing wrong?

Very very few users will even know when bandwidth is slow because of another's activity. The bill at the end of the month may be higher if your account is set up that way. This then becomes the price of doing business in a sloppy way. No different then forgetting a cell phone and someone uses it because it was 'un-protected'.

interesting lines between ethics and stealing.

I believe ethics are in question and the courts cannot fairly handle all the exceptions to the question of stealing.

You cannot blame an 80yr old that does not know better and then find a 20yr old geek guilty because he should know better.

Have you copied a CD, DVD, Pressed record on a VCR or recorded a conversation? This falls into the same group of UN-PROTECTED media and should not be holding up the courts UNLESS you are making a profit from it.

IMHO

Barry

Posted August 28, 2007 10:18 PM

Geoff

Halifax

Apples are not oranges but they are both fruit.
Is is stealing if your neighbor has a secure WIFI network and then gives you the key so you can get it for free? Now you are willingly stealing the signal and I believe that is what this stems from. It is still your responsibility for any illegal activity on your account. Cut and dry.

I know what you are going to come back with (what if he was giving you a ride in his car, are you now stealing the gas because if you took your car then twice as much gas would be burned.)Share a bus ride and both of you pay.


Posted August 28, 2007 10:44 PM

Matt

Connecting to a completely unsecured wireless network is not stealing at all. It essentially broadcasts to everyone within range, "there is a network here and everyone can connect to it". As the owner of the wireless network, it is your responsibility to educate yourself about how to secure your network against unwanted use, as opposed to throwing your hands in the air and complaining that "it's too hard". If you don't want the responsibility, don't buy or use wireless networking devices.

Posted August 29, 2007 03:21 AM

Dwight Yachuk

Ottawa

Pierre, I'm just as ignorant as you, but I like your questions. When I first turned on my new laptop at home it told me that I was connected to a WiFi network. Amazing I thought, finally an intelligent computer!

Later as I learnt more, I realized that my computer had connected itself to someone elses WiFi network. I hope my computer asked their computer's permission first!

My real comment is that if I can be charged for connecting to someone elses WiFi while on my own property then I will want them to be charged with tresspassing when they allow their computer to send their WiFi signals onto my property.

Now isn't that silly!

Dwight

Posted August 29, 2007 11:25 AM

kt

Ontario

To make an accurate comparison: If you have a mobile home and park it on someone else's property with the windows and doors open, are you going to charge that homeowner for trespassing into your home? um, No.
If I am sitting in my house and there is a wireless network around me open to connection there should be no problem with me using it (minimally). Besides, these waves transfer through my living space and through me. On a side note, these waves may cause long-term effects to my health; maybe I should then sue you for making my space unhealthy.
I have a router in my house, unencrypted. No-one lives close enough to use it. If I was somewhere where other people could connect I would encrypt it, multiple connections can slow my internet down. Knowing that, I try to use other people's signal minimally and I thank those people for having an open signal when I need it.
Encrypting is not hard, sure, coming from a 20 year old electrical engineering student that may not be reassuring for the not so computer-savvy. But for those who aren't so savvy, you went out, bought the router, figured out how to set it up, there's not much more to it to encrypt the signal. If all else fails, call a router helpline, friend, co-worker, cousin's neighbour's son, etc. I have no problem giving 5 minutes to help someone secure their signal.
Someone hacking into a signal is a different story. If a person has encrypted it, it's obvious they don't want others using it. It’s wrong to hack, if it happens to you, you can change your password, look into higher security, consider a router with a smaller transmission area … move on.
To sum it all up, if you don't want other people using your wireless, encrypt it. Not encrypting it is like placing a tray of cookies in the middle of a cafeteria. Don't expect people not to take them. YOU are the one putting the signal out, it is YOUR responsibility to limit who does or doesn't connect. Take responsibility for your luxuries or don't use them.

Posted August 29, 2007 11:49 AM

Ed Grant

Alberta

I agree entirely with those who say that using an unencrypted signal is NOT stealing (any more than turning on a radio and picking up a radio signal).

Let me pose a question here: If one leaves one's vehicle parked with the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition (and the motor idling), is one not inviting the "theft" (or "use without permission") of the vehicle? And in which case couldn't it be argued that the vehicle's rightful owner was guilty of contributory negligence? I think (perhaps I'm mistaken) that insurance companies certainly take this approach even if the law doesn't.

Posted August 29, 2007 11:54 AM

kt

Ontario

even better comparison: There's a concert down the road from my home and I can hear the music perfectly. Is it wrong to enjoy the music that is readily available to me in my own back yard?

Posted August 29, 2007 11:57 AM

Keith

I think that the SSID Beacon that routers use is an interesting piece of this story.

It basically transmits out to the immediate area that the network is "there" and available - perhaps the people being arrested in the U.K. could argue that this was an "invitation" to log onto that network?

Posted August 29, 2007 12:30 PM

Paul Klimstra

"I think the onus should be 100% on the owner of the wifi signal. It is so easy nowadays to encrypt the signal, that anyone can do it. If someone breaks encryption to access a system, THEN and only then should they be considered to be committing a crime."

Mike, leaving my car unlocked and the keys in the ignition does not give someone carte blanche to steal it. Sure, it's an incredibly stupid thing to do on my part, but theft is theft, and if you're picked up behind the wheel of my car blurting out, "But it wasn't protected!" is not going to save you from being charged.

Posted August 29, 2007 01:56 PM

dave

if you own a fruit tree with a branch that overhangs your property line the fruit on it may be picked by anyone so inclined if you do not like this cut it off or pick it first

Posted August 29, 2007 08:58 PM

Scott

Vancouver

I'm afraid the responsibility does fall on the owner. Many, if not most, workstations are set up such that they will automatically associate with unsecured WiFi access points, so then you get into the whole legal realm of having to prove wilful intent to steal. If people are claiming ignorance about securing their WiFi, then what about those - as a defence - claiming ignorance about their workstations connecting without their understanding?

More importantly, if you have an unsecured access point, then your data is going over the airwaves, free for all to view. Really, if you're going to use WiFi, you need to secure it. And if you secure it, then anyone 'stealing' your bandwidth by breaking your security and connecting, has very clearly intentionally done so.

Conversely, if you have an unsecured wireless network, then you really are just knowingly asking for all your important data to be stolen, and trying to plead ignorance afterwards. Yes, you should be able to leave $1000 cash in plain view on the front seat of your car with the windows rolled down in downtown New York without it being stolen, but realistically, you know the risks, and there are very simple precautions to prevent it happening. It's your responsibility to learn, or don't use the technology.

Come on, take responsibility folks, we're adults. If you turn on your hose and you let water leak into the streets, don't blame other people for taking a drink!

Posted August 30, 2007 12:17 AM

mt

Ottawa

Looking through the posts here it strikes me that most people have no idea what the real point behind encrypting a wireless signal is: yes, it helps stop unauthorized users from gaining internet access ... but its real purpose is so that nobody can easily intercept YOUR comunication! If you send a password to a website over an open wireless connection, that password can be recorded without you ever knowing.
Stop worrying about whether or not your neighbours are stealing your bandwidth - they could be stealing your identity!

Posted August 30, 2007 10:50 AM

pb

Toronto

I hear all these comparisons to using an unlocked Wi-Fi Access Point like going into someone's unlocked car or house.

The two simply cannot be compared. A house and a car are tangible assets, a Wi-Fi signal is not.

TV Satellite Signals are encrypted for a reason, so people will have to pay to watch them. If Bell decided that it was no longer going to encrypt its Satellite signals, would that give them legal right to bring charges against someone that had happened to come upon the transmission with their satellite dish?

A big fat no for that one, the court would throw it out and tell Bell to stop being stupid.

The same applies here.

Years ago, no one dreamed that "Anti-Virus" was ever doing to be needed on home computers. That turned out to be wrong. Even computer using Grandmothers now know that you simply NEED it.

Wireless is still technically in its infancy and is experiencing the same growing pains. Given enough exposure, everyone will soon realize that their wireless home networks need encryption too.

And for those of you who leave your cars and houses unlocked all the time. Have fun trying to collect at insurance time!

Posted August 30, 2007 11:28 PM

Julesfk

winnipeg

This is kind of like someone dropping a twenty on the street then claiming the person that picked it up after he or she walked away is stealing. If you didn't want someone to pick op the twenty don't leave it in plain sight and don't turn your back on it. In other words encrypt or if you can't do it yourself get your kid to.

Posted August 31, 2007 05:04 PM

Nune

Kitchener

"Is stealing wi-fi really stealing?"
"Is [it] wrong?"
The first can be defined by law; the second is more fun to discuss.

If it’s incorrect to compare with unlocked cars, then so too is comparing it to satellite signals. It would be more accurate if stealing satellite signals compromises the experience of your neighbour who purchased the service and whether s/he minds.

True, if my unencrypted Wi-Fi gets into someone else's home, they are ABLE to use it. They may even feel they have a RIGHT to it. So, I encrypt (taking away their right -bad me.) I'm not as sure about a guy on the street, even if it is public space. Some questionable analogies of my own: Is a stranger free to photograph your children playing outside? Should women not be allowed to wear certain clothing without being harassed or worse, because it "invites" wrongful behaviour?

Sure, you can protect yourself to the Nth degree. But if you say people should protect something, then you say that it is theirs to protect and not yours. If they don’t protect something of theirs, then it becomes yours? Quick, call in your kids!

It’s about self-restraint. I too am weak sometimes, but would concede that taking without permission anything of value and belongs to someone else is WRONG. I wouldn't value light that spills from my window outside, or the apple that hangs from my lawn over the sidewalk; especially not if that apple falls and you slip on it – then it would definitely be my apple, no doubt.

However, if there were free hotspots around, the guy arrested should have been given a warning that these owners value their signal and couldn’t spare any. (Imagine him being in the holding cell and answering to, “So, what you in for?”). Wonder if there's a way to broadcast “non-permission”. Since broadcasted SSIDs always reads, "hey, use me!", I guess I encrypt at the same time just to be funny, since not encrypting apparently already says just that, and I’d rather be funny than redundant.

Posted September 5, 2007 10:01 PM

User

USA

People...this has nothing to do with someone invading your property. If my neighbour shouts so loud that I can hear his conversation in my house, that's HIS problem, not mine. Now if I use the information that I overheard from his conversation for illegal purposes, THEN I have commited an offense. And this offense is in the use of the information, not in what was heard. HE needs to protect his communication so that others don’t hear it…it’s just common sense.

Posted December 5, 2007 05:01 PM

Jordan

I have set up a Wi-fi at my neighbors house with her permission it is just a simple wii wi-fi so I can update my wii and play online. Lately as i was playing it kicked me off and said the signal wasn't strong enough. I checked everything and there appeared to be nothing wrong. But when I entered my house I saw my Father downloading some game using his PS3 I adked him how he got that signal he said it was just some signal he found so he used it. I unpluged my Wi-fi and his download stoped I have asked him many times to stop downloading things because he didn't get my permission or my nabours to use the Wi-fi. Now my $70 wi-fi that I bought will rarely work with my wii because of his PS3 (I'm only 12 so $70 is hard to get). So that I find is stealing because I gave him plenty of time and chances to stop yet he continues Wi-fi signal stealing is NOT a victimless crime because I've lost $70 and recieved nothing for it.us

Posted August 6, 2008 07:45 PM

Dave

Toronto

"Locks are to keep honest people honest" My grandmother use to say that all the time. The same thing is true here. Why put locks on something it were free.

I work for a telecommunications company that takes this concept very seriously. Every WiFi device we place in the home is secured when we leave. We charge customers fee's for overusing their bandwidth. 2 gig being the lowest cap can easily be overused by a few "quick emails" from a hundred or so people.

Think of it this way if I water my lawn with a different neighbors hose every day for a week and the cost to them is negligible does it constitute theft.

Posted April 20, 2009 11:03 PM

J

Vancouver

If you have a large fruit-bearing tree and one of the branches reaches over my property, I have the legal right to take fruit from that branch.

Posted November 12, 2009 02:36 PM

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