War Driving… That Big City Crime, Moving To The 'Burbs

from the not-this-again dept

You might have thought that, by now, with so many stories overhyping and misleading people about the “threat” of open WiFi that local news reporters would know better than to run another one. Yet, here we have a local TV news station in Fresno, California running a standard “open WiFi is pure evil” story with some amusing additions. First, they say that it’s a “big city crime” that’s now moving out to more rural areas. Funny, we’re still not convinced it’s a crime, let alone a “big city” one. Second, the news report talks about someone arrested and charged with “stealing internet service,” because he was found sitting in a car with a laptop. The video report on the story even includes a mug shot with big red words “ARRESTED” to scare off those of you rural citizens who are attracted to this “big city crime.” The news report also repeats the usual stuff about identity theft and whatnot without actually understanding the real issue (such as the fact that identity theft is extremely unlikely). It’s also not at all clear how leaving your WiFi open will lead to obscene emails. There’s a great part in the video, also, where a “cyber technician” shows a positively shocked reporter that he can see someone else’s network (oh my goodness!) right from his very computer! And, then, he notes conspiratorially that if it weren’t encrypted, which it is, he could use that network to actually surf the internet! So scary! Just using someone else’s wireless connection is still a very gray zone when it comes to whether or not it’s a crime. As people have pointed out, many people leave their WiFi open on purpose, to allow others to use it. The “loss” to the owner is minimal, if anything at all. Plus, there are some real legal questions about who owns those radio waves once they’re off your property. We’re all for people being more secure with their own WiFi, but these misleading and fear mongering stories really need to go.

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Comments on “War Driving… That Big City Crime, Moving To The 'Burbs”

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Rick says:

Mom always told me to share.

I’ll always leave my Wi-Fi open, for anyone who wants to connect to use. I pay for it, I will do as I please with what I pay for! Besides the fact, the Cable company has never forced a EULA on me that says I can’t either. Heck, I let my friends use the free long distance cable offers too – is that wrong? Maybe it’s wrong to let other people watch my Cable TV while at my house too?

I refuse to use any of the Telcos anymore, all they want is control of my life and everyone elses.

this BS of them fighting Muni-Wifi is incredibly annoying, and the backlash is near. The politicians supporting the fight againts municipalities offering a service to their residents will not last long. The tech generation understands whats going on, and our votes get stronger every year as the old foggies die off. 😀

If they don’t like it, sue me. I’ll gladly make sure every person possible knows how evil they really are, the greedy SOBs….

Adam says:

WiFi Access

Circumventing any attempt at securing the network by the owner is considered tresspassing. Otherwise, it is safe to assume that the WiFi link is being shared altruistically. There is little if any variation of this law between states (in the USA) and the only grey area is when WiFi owners have default security on, which could possibly be automatically circumvented by default settings on a visitor’s laptop or other device. In that circumstance, proof of intent is key to a charge and conviction. The reason you don’t see many of these cases before the court, is that most people don’t care enough to report it. They usually seek a technology-based fix.

jeff (profile) says:


if you’re dumb enough to have wi-fi without securing it, sure, something might happen. the same things can happen if you’re on a wired network without a firewall. this whole “scare” is just one more instance of dumb people being catered to in our country. maybe if we stopped doing that, people would be encouraged to learn instead of simply being afraid of new things like a pack of gorillas who’ve just come upon a caveman sitting in front of a fire.

Drew from Zhrodague (user link) says:

Wardriving is FUN!

I tried to eliminate some of this FUD in the past, by doing a couple videos for Seattlewireless TV, about responsible wardriving, and what the FBI had to say about wardriving. I’ve read lots of those stories by hack journalists pulling the knee-jerk FUD card with their articles. Unfortunately, even bad journalists have more of a voice than some of us loud advocates. All we can do is make sure NOT TO PARK ANYWHERE while wardriving, and I guess make sure you’re wearing pants!

bobdog says:

Wireless security and the Cobbler's children

“It’s also not at all clear how leaving your WiFi open will lead to obscene emails.”

Wasn’t there a British case about a year ago where a guy was arrested and jailed for child porn traced to his IP address as a result of a compromised wireless connection? My memory is vague about the details, but as I recall, he made a pretty plausible case that he was not involved and was eventually released.

Whether my memory is playing tricks on me or not, once somebody’s into your router, they can can send out hate mail, threats, whatever, to say nothing about hidden shares like C$. And it all traces back to your public IP address.

I gave a presentation about a year ago about wireless to a small group and could see 9 wireless routers, three of which were completely unprotected. I had internet access in 30 seconds, sanctimoniously made my point and got out. Untraceable. No encryption, no MAC address filtering, nothing. Lots of careless folks out there.

Months later, in late December, I was working in my office on a troublesome wireless connection on a client’s machine and I turned off all the wireless security to get it to work. I was under some time pressure and was in a hurry. I finished the machine, returned it and got on to my next job. I forgot to disable wireless, because I very rarely use wireless in my office.

Then on New Year’s Day morning, I was tinkering around with an IP scanner and caught my next door neighbor’s kid in my network.

Ah, the sweet smell of hubris. Lesson learned. The best wireless security is not to use wireless at all.

James Moffitt (user link) says:

Re: Wireless security and the Cobbler's children

If someone that KNOWS what they are doing and has the time and technology to do it then there is not much you can do to stop them short of just turning OFF your network when you leave the house in the morning. I guess you could post an armed guard or your wife outside with a loaded gun to keep the war drivers away but then again how many of us want to give our wives a loaded gun. LOL…
Anyway, in all seriousness if you turn on WEP on your router/switch/firewall device it is going to keep out 99% of the honest ward drivers or neighbors that live within 1300 ft of your house.
If your home network is set up correctly your Internet gateway (dsl modem/cable modem) is going to be on a seperate IP subnet than your Linksys (whatever the brand is) router/switch/firewall.
You can enable WEP and you can filter Mac addresses as well to further complicate things.
Your typical end user that is looking to leach an IP address off your wireless AP is not going to have a clue how to find your hidden shares on your local computers. For that matter if you have a wireless network you should always have your “shares” password protected anyway.

James Moffitt (user link) says:

War driving in neighborhoods

I too believe that these types of news stories should be better researched and presented. However, I also would not recommend for anyone to be driving through residential neighborhoods war driving and sitting in front of someone’s house using their Internet connection. The reason is simple. Someone is bound to see you and not recognize you and you will immediatly become a suspicious person that will be reported to local neighborhood watches or the local police. That also means you are subjecting yourself to the scrutiny of those groups who have every right to question why you are there. Is that really necessary? I think that war drivers should exercise common sense and take into consideration these facts before they start romaing neighborhoods. I wonder how long it will be before burglars use that as an excuse to actually be in your neighborhood checking out the next victim?

A person says:

Re: War driving

I’ve done that before to my friend’s house. I parked outside his house, and started to connect to his network. Unfortunatly for me, he had a strong encryption (a randomly generated, 18 character, case-sensitive alpha-numeric password that changes every week). Not to mention the fact that he saw me. He started turning his security on and off rapidly just to f*** with me, then lowered the security and came outside when I was working on getting in and started attacking my car (ie pounding on it with a bat).

TheShaz says:

Re: Re: War driving

This is what happened to me. A few months back I was visiting relatives near Ocala – real nice retirement community – all gated communities.
I have a iPAQ with builtin Wifi – While at their house (they only have dialup ISP) my iPAQ found a open wifi and automatically connected. I was to determin that it was their neighbors. Later that day the neighbors came over for a visit and I mentioned that their wireless linksys rtr was not secure and that my PDA was able to connect.
Here I was thinking I was helping them, giving them a heads up – its a gated community so War driving is not a big threat. I work at a help desk and know how to set up just about every make of router.
The response was not what I expected, they got very iritated and accused me of “Hacking” – after repeated tries to explain their their unsecure router was “inviting” other wireless devices to connect. He claims he paid serious $ to “secure” his system mostly AV/firewall software. He even threatened to call the police.
I felt horrible that my comment damaged my relatives friendship with their neighbors but outside of clammin up -I don’t know what else I could have done in that situation.

Dam says:

Sharing your WIFI?

The only problem I’d have with sharing WIFI is someone might download MP3s, kiddie porn or run a P2P on my connection. Of course, they’d have to be close by, or the connectivity wouldn’t be worth it for the user. But with a little understanding of who’s using your connection, what’s the problem?

Anonymous Coward says:


It never fails to amaze me that nobody ever brings up the issue of passwords in this argument. People must know that standard pop/smtp type email does not encrypt your password.

So its out there for anyone on your open connection to see. And you can do it without any skills.

Of course these days most ISP’s have some security, and your general browser email (gmail, yahoo etc) is ok.

But still, its something to worry about. I don’t care about someone using my bandwidth, but I do care about them getting personal information.

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