Now Cantennas Are Illegal Too? Why Don't They Just Outlaw WiFi?

from the says-who-exactly? dept

Is it really so much to ask to have people who are making and enforcing laws concerning technology actually understand the technology they’re dealing with? Following the series of recent arrests of people for using open WiFi networks, the definition of illegal equipment is being stretched. In the UK arrest, the guy was arrested for “possessing equipment for fraudulent use of a communications service,” which all of us who have WiFi in our laptops probably are guilty of. At least that’s just in the UK. Over here in the US it’s apparently still legal to have WiFi equipment — but if you dare try to boost your signal with an antenna, watch out. According to the head of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force, the popular “cantenna” device is completely illegal. For those who don’t know, someone a while back worked out that you could boost the range of your WiFi router with a Pringle’s can. It requires a bit of work, so a small operation sprung up to sell Cantennas. They’re quite popular with people who want to spread WiFi around a house where the basic router won’t reach certain parts of it. Hell, even CompUSA sells them! But, according to this “high tech” police officer: “They’re unsophisticated but reliable, and it’s illegal to possess them.” The article includes a story about how the police arrested a high school student for breaking into his school’s network to change his grades and they (gasp!) found a cantenna in his room! Again, the crime he committed has nothing to do with having an antenna booster, but that doesn’t stop the reporter and the cop from talking about the evils of connecting to WiFi networks.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Now Cantennas Are Illegal Too? Why Don't They Just Outlaw WiFi?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Robert (user link) says:

Re: No Subject Given

Only in violation of the FCC regulation if you do not hold a technician class or higher amateur radio license when you use it (I don’t think there’s a lawa against owning an antenna). If you hold a license, you are permitted to build and operate equipment near that band, and at much higher transmitted power levels than FCC maximum for part 15 devices.

Jude says:

Re: Re: No Subject Given

I am 16 and own several wifi antennae. I have a HAM liscense. Getting a HAM liscense has never been easier! My advice is if you like wifi, get a HAM liscense. Get a book from ARRL at: . For practice tests go here: . After you continue scoring consistantly passing grades. Go take the HAM test and and have your liscence on the day of passing the test. Really not that much work or effort envolved!!!

t('-'t) says:

Re: No Subject Given

ok this has got to be the most retarted thing i have EVER heard yes its illagle to crack wep encrptions and change your grades but to go into a PUBLIC acses poiont is COMPLEATLEY leagil if its not encrypted then thiers no way in hell thay can press any charge aginst you and comeout on top. its not true your going to tell me that because a antena is home made its illagle antenas have benn around seince wifi and now justbecause some black hat fux decided to change his grades and a few other smartas crackers broke the law so what. thats a compleatly diffrent thing. this is so retarted i dont giva shit im not spending 400$ on something i can make in my house.

Zoter says:

Part 15

Yup – they are, technicly, illegal.

Wi-Fi gear operates under Part 15 of the FCC rules. Those rules state you can’t modify or use any antenna that isn’t ‘accepted’. Acceptance is a procedure the manufactures jump through. So adding an after market or home brewed antenna is a violation of part 15.

So is using any kind of external ammplifier.

There’s a lot more to Part 15 – but those are the biggies.

Atmos42 says:

Re: Part 15

According to Wireless Garden’s website, maker of the Cantenna:

Is it legal to use your Cantenna?

Yes, our Cantennas and Pigtails have been tested and comply with part 15 of the FCC rules. Make sure other wireless devices that you use also comply. Compliance with FCC regulations is your responsibility. Check with your Internet Service Providers to find out if they permit sharing of their Internet connections.

Zotter says:

Re: Re: Part 15

Uh, in-spite of what the Cantenna sellers say on their web site – take a look at what the FCC says on the subject.

See Page 2 – Antenna Requirements

Changing the antenna on a transmitter can significantly increase, or decrease, the strength of the signal that is ultimately transmitted. Except for cable locating equipment, the standards in Part 15 are not based solely on output power but also take into account the antenna characteristics. Thus, a low power transmitter that complies with the technical standards in Part 15 with a particular antenna attached can exceed the Part 15 standards if a different antenna is attached. Should this happen it could pose a serious interference problem to authorized radio communications such as emergency, broadcast and air-traffic control communications.

In order to prevent such interference problems, each Part 15 transmitter must be designed to ensure that no type of antenna can be used with it other than the one used to demonstrate compliance with the technical standards. This means that Part 15 transmitters must have permanently attached antennas, or detachable antennas with unique connectors. A “unique connector” is one that is not of a standard type found in electronic supply stores.
(Section 15.203)

It is recognized that suppliers of Part 15 transmitters often want their customers to be able to replace an antenna if it should break. With this in mind, Part 15 allows transmitters to be designed so that the user can replace a broken antenna. When this is done, the replacement antenna must be electrically identical to the antenna that was used to obtain FCC authorization for the transmitter. The replacement antenna also must include the unique connector described above to ensure it is used with the proper transmitter.

Now, what it sounds like the cantenna sellers may be saying is their device, being by itself – well, basicly useless, is compliant with part 15. They could just as easily say it’s compliant with almost any rule – cuz it does nothing. It also absolves them of liability if a user gets ‘caught’.

Remember – you can’t certify an antenna or a pig tail. You certify an end user transmitter – complete with feedline and antenna.

But then, maybe the sellers are using the ‘blanket’ standard of what a Wi-fi transmitter is and ensure their gear will stay within compliance with any and every Wi-fi transmitter available.

And then, there’s the actual ‘risk of getting caught’, wich is so low as to hardly be worth mentioning.

stix says:

Re: Part 15

Uh, adding a modified antenna effectively makes it an “experimental/homebrew/one-off system” something that part 15 specificly alows. it does however transfer the responsibility for compliance to the user and depending on the antenna it may or not be compliant.
either way, while use may be prohibited possesion never is, so this cop is obviously talking with the wrong end of his anatomy.

Lanzaa says:

Re: Part 15

[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 47, Volume 1]
[Revised as of October 1, 2004]
From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access
[CITE: 47CFR15.23]

[Page 758]




Subpart A_General

Sec. 15.23 Home-built devices.

(a) Equipment authorization is not required for devices that are not
marketed, are not constructed from a kit, and are built in quantities of
five or less for personal use.
(b) It is recognized that the individual builder of home-built
equipment may not possess the means to perform the measurements for
determining compliance with the regulations. In this case, the builder
is expected to employ good engineering practices to meet the specified
technical standards to the greatest extent practicable. The provisions
of Sec. 15.5 apply to this equipment.

NC (user link) says:

Cantenna is not illegal.

I haven’t read any of the other comments on this article, but all anyone needs to do to determine the legality of the cantenna is read the FCC Part 15 rules on operation in license-exempt spectrum. Local law enforcement has no right to determine someone’s guilt based on the posession of an antenna. If posessing a cantenna is illegal, then any other antenna permitted by FCC standards would be illegal too. The only way a cantenna would be illegal is if someone was using it to interfere with someone else’s licensed network. As we all know, wi-fi operates in unlicensed spectrum. It is the responsibility of the owner of the network to properly secure it and understand that others can interfere with it and receive their signal.

Mongocrush says:

part 15

I’m a little confused about that part 15. Would the can part be considered part of the antenna? I mean all it really does is direct where the signals from the antenna goes. It doesn’t really increase the signal it just directs where the signal goes and then you will have more signals going in the right direction instead of being wasted going 360degrees. Am I completely crazy, or on the correct path with this?

dalebert says:

Re: part 15

The FCC tests looking at the received signal levels. If you change the transmitter or antenna so the received signal is higher, then you are in violation.
For several thousand bucks you can probably go to you local cerified lab and get your system certified.
This will ensure you are sending harmonics on any of the ‘forbidden bands’ or interefering with other services. The regulations are meant to keep our country in compliance with the Geneva Convention (i.e., Federal laws). The fines can be quite steep.

anonymous coward (profile) says:

Not illegal according to another Sac. High Tech Cr

I attended a security conference in Sacramento last week, and another member of the Sacramento High Tech Crime Force said the cantenna was NOT illegal, and said the lieutenant took quite a bit of razzing internally for making the comment, but also said the newspaper took the comment out of context.

A. George Gavalas (user link) says:

FCC Part 15 states clearly

The FCC states clearly that if ANY device, radio or antenna, is built at home without it being built from a kit, it is legal so long as no more than 5 are built, it doesn’t impede against safety (i.e. doesn’t interfere with a hospital or airport/airbase), and they aren’t sold. If it is built from a kit, the kit has to adhere to part 15, but all cantenna kits in MAJOR stores do adhere to these rules. There is nothing illegal about an external antenna for broadcast or receiving. IN FACT, the fcc makes it clear that so long as it doesn’t exceed 30 meters or infringe upon safety, it is the responsibility of the offended party, not the offending, to rectify the issue, whether it be to lock down their internet access, get more powerful antennas to provide access to themselves, or whatever other impedence someone may cause. Local law enforcement needs to become more educated on the laws as they stand. This is a grey area to most, but the law is basically the same in every state, not that which state matters. If they try to say using the bandwidth is illegal, then crossing state lines to view a website makes it a federal case bound by federal law. Under fedreal law, like physical property, if you don’t post a no trespassing sign, you don’t have a fence, and you don’t ask them to leave, you can’t arrest someone for being on your property so long as they don’t take anything. Allowing them an ip address through your dhcp server and having no encryption or captive portal in place is legally granting them access to use your bandwidth under federal laws.

Rick says:

No Subject Given

It’s not the accessing the access point itself but hacking/cracking into parts of the school network system that is most certainly password protected and all. This means, there was certainly hacking into either a faculty or administrator or administrative staff member’s account.

You or any hacker can be liable for hacking and it doesn’t matter if you done it over an unencrypted network. Remember the days of hacking networks over public telephone systems or even over radio waves like packet radio, satellite communication, etc. Remember, that was the beginning of internet communications. Back in those days, several campus LANs and like local networks in various parts of the U.S. and eventually throughout the world would locally be connected together on 10 Mbps and like LANs but each LAN would be connected to each other on maybe a ~1.6 MHz wide channel by radio easily capable of communicating a 1.544 Mbps. Basically, T-1 ethernet over radio.

When you had only a few hundred devices connected, it was easy to do this with only about 10 channels. Eventually, all this expanded and distinct networks were being connected together by high speed communication trunk lines. A few of them only existed and only were for key top tier connection points.

Now we have a kid, it isn’t the kid connecting into the non-password encrypted Wifi. It was the kid accessing parts of the network and tampering with his school grades records…. basically a digital version of sneaking into the school and having his grades changed. He got in trouble for altering his grades and violating numerous student conduct violations and possible hacking crimes because at some point, this kids records would have had to go through an administrative staff members account login and password to access those records. So basically, infiltrating into faculty or staff ‘user accounts’ to get authorization. Alternatively, the person would have had to have network administrator account access. The person couldn’t otherwise have got through without have user login and password of somewhat who had authorization privileges. That is what he or she got in trouble for.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...