On The Criminality Of WiFi Piggybacking…

from the is-it-really-a-crime? dept

It’s been many, many years since we first asked the question of whether or not piggybacking on an open WiFi network was a crime. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of people arrested, and wide ranging discussions on the ethics of WiFi piggybacking — with various ethicists noting that simply using an open WiFi network doesn’t seem unethical, assuming you don’t significantly slow down the connection by uploading or downloading large files. However, we still see people falsely referring to it as “theft”.

The latest comes in a short column for Time Magazine, where the author admits that he was a WiFi “thief” for many years in his old apartment. In the article, he claims that it is against the law, noting one of the stories of someone being arrested, while quoting Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47 of the United States Code, which deals with anybody who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” Well, that sounds good, but there’s a big problem with it. If the owner of the WiFi access point left it open, then they have, by default, authorized access to that device. So it can’t possibly be a violation of that law.

Of course, there will be those who say that the owners didn’t intend for the network to be open — but that’s really besides the point here. The only information a user has is does the network say: “you’re welcome here” or not. If it’s open, it sends out an invite that specifically says: this network is open, come use it. That’s authorization, and using such a network is not “theft” in any sense.

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Comments on “On The Criminality Of WiFi Piggybacking…”

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196 Comments
SisterofDot says:

Re: Exactly.

The problem is: Corporate Trolls.

Corporate offers services but keep in mind – there are no favors. When they do offer a benefit for using their service or product – some dumb a## monkey at the top decides to find a way to charge you for getting their benefit.

Just remember: There isn’t anything for free and no one is doing you any favors.

The second the Corporate Trolls find out that someone is happy they come in and Fu## it Up, then bill you for their mistake. BARF!

*Sprint
*Staples
The list goes on and on while the consumer pays one way or the other.
I’m SO sick of having to discuss my personal business, to some dope in INDIA.

Thanks alot corporate. I hope someone poops in your Cherios.

Duodave (user link) says:

Re: Exactly.

But in your example, there is a sign. Take tresspass, for example. One must mark property as private in order for tresspass to occur. Using an open WiFi point is like that – there’s no sign saying “don’t come here”.

The legal definition of “breaking and entering” requires damage to be done to the property in order to gain entrance. Since no damage is done by the mere act of using WiFi, I can’t compare it to breaking and entering. So one thinks about tresspass. But where’s the private property sign?

Jiminy says:

Re: Re:

Did you miss the part in the above analogy about the sign? If you post a SIGN on your door saying, “all and sundry are welcome to get out of the heat and enjoy my air conditioning, oh, and have a beer while you’re at it” Is it theft when I come in, crack a cold one, and sit under your AC?

Because if you are broadcasting your SSID from a router with no encryption or authentication, that is the sign. Connecting to a unsecured network != rattling doorknobs, it equals accepting an invitation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, you’re analogy breaks down and here’s why.

Your PC’s wireless client – whether it be Microsoft’s, Apple’s or any third party client – is actively seeking wi-fi networks. All clients can report the security status of the network.

If I go around the neighborhood and “rattle doorknobs” as you say, it could be construed by the other neighbors and the authorities I am actively seeking an open door, unless I have a reason to perform this activity. Maybe I’m a neighborhood security guard for example.

The concept that just because someone leaves their network unsecured is an open invitation is ludicrous. At least in a court of law it would be, unless someone here can cite US court caselaw where an unsecured network is just that – an open invitation.

Keep in mind, the network owner may be in violation of his ISP’s terms of service (TOS) if he is allowing the network to remain open because a residential network is not to be shared, at least by the majority of US ISP’s TOS.

Jiminy says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

DHCP discovery = The client broadcasts to find available servers.

I stand in the middle of the street and scream: Does anyone want to let me in? It’s cold outside.

DHCP offers = When a DHCP server receives an IP lease request from a client, it extends an IP lease offer. This is done by sending a DHCPOFFER message to the client.

This message contains the client’s MAC address, followed by the IP address that the server is offering, the subnet mask, the lease duration, and the IP address of the DHCP server making the offer.

Someone screams back: I’m the third house on the left, the green one, use the side door.

DHCP requests = When the client PC receives an IP lease offer, it must tell all the other DHCP servers that it has accepted an offer. To do this, the client broadcasts a DHCPREQUEST message containing the IP address of the server that made the offer.

OK, third house, green, side door. Got it.

DHCP acknowledgement = When the DHCP server receives the DHCPREQUEST message from the client, it initiates the final phase of the configuration process. This acknowledgement phase involves sending a DHCPACK packet to the client. This packet includes the lease duration and any other configuration information that the client might have requested.

Yep, you got it. Make sure you take off your shoes. You can stay as long as you like. It’s a blizzard out there.

Am I trespassing?

Jiminy says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Post #53 explains briefly how DHCP works.

Having a visible SSID isn’t why I connect to your router. My PC asking can I can connect to anyone, your router saying yes, me, and giving my PC an IP address (as well as carrying my traffic) is why I connect to your router.

As far as intentions, how could I ever know what your intentions are if you don’t communicate them? your router is communicating it is ok to connect, if you want to communicate otherwise, it is YOUR DUTY to do so.

I know some of you aren’t reading any of the above posts before commenting, but if you did, you might learn why your analogies prove your lack of understanding of how DHCP works.

Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

Re: Re:

it’s more like this.
i knock on your door, and you’re not home. (attempt a connection to your WiFi hot spot)
your roommate (router) answers, and i ask if i may come in for a drink. (request an IP address, and a gateway to access the internet)
your roommate not knowing that you don’t know who i am invites me in. (your router assigns me an IP address, and allows me access to the internet)
i sit on your couch, and hang out for a while watching TV not damaging anything, or taking anything from your house before kindly leaving before you get home. (i download large amounts of pornography, and unauthorized music files before disconnecting from your WiFi to return at a later time)

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:

I beg your pardon, but you’ve gone too far! Yes, your roomate, Mr. Router, asked who I am, and I said that I’m a neighbor, which I am. He then let me right in just like it didn’t really matter anyway. He just let me in. In fact, he even told me he lets in anyone else who wants to come over.

Of course, wanting to be a good neighbor, I behaved like an invited guest. Your bedroom was locked, and he knew enough not to let me rummage through your underwear drawer or your file cabinet anyway – I mean who wanted to anyway?

But yes, he was nice enough to let me watch a little TV, listen to some music, and read the newspaper. (Now, this one unannounced visitor also came while I was there and wanted to show us some naughty movies – that guy did actually seem to know you pretty well. In fact, he entered the house through your room.)

But how dare you insinuate that I was dishonest! I never had to lie about who I am or whether I knew you, and shame on you for suggesting as much. And, stupid you if you don’t like how your roommate handles things. You’re the one who decided to live with the guy without even bothering to find out anything about him. If you had, then you’d know that Mr. Router is actually a really understanding guy. If you tell him not to let anyone in but you, I’m sure he’d do just that.

Honestly, where do you get off? /sarcasm

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Your wifi router does send out a notice when you check for wifi connections, you can set it to be “invisible”. Your door does not have an open or closed indicator without trying to open the door. You do not have to check a wifi connection to see if it is unlocked, it tells you its self. therefore you are inviting people to use your connection.

It is not hard to secure your wifi connection. you can simply follow the on screen instructions, and if you choose not to lock it, you are therefore inviting people to use your connection.

Jason says:

Re: Re: WTF?

It depends, does the mat say, “Welcome, you have permission to come in,” and then a device under the mat automatically opens the door when anyone steps on it?

I only ask because that is precisely how stupid this completely unrelated door analogy is getting.

You do know that I’m at my desk miles away. My computer is just sending messages to the Techdirt server, which is then posting the comments to a website, also hosted on a server miles away from both of us.

I AM NOT IN YOUR COMPUTER.

Mike T. says:

Theft? Since when is sharing a crime?

Considering I, like many other people, intentionally leave my wifi open for others to use, what is a user supposed to think if they see an open network? “Hmm I wonder if this was open on purpose or accidentally?” If I’m traveling and I see an open network I’m going to use it, not worry about wether you meant for me to use it. I think the big ones pushing for laws to make this illegal are the ISP’s. With such high bandwith availible now it’s feasable for multible people to use one connection without a drop in service especially in apartments. The ISP’s don’t want people to share, they want to charge everyone.

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

Change your SSID configuration

I changed my SSID to “NOTPUBLIC” and then turned off SSID Broadcast – voila, no one accesses my router but me any more.

My neighbors, the “Linksys” and “D-Link” families, both leave their systems wide open, so if anyone nearby needs to beg / borrow / steal some free wi-fi it’s available from their routers.

Phillip Vector (user link) says:

Sign

“Because if you are broadcasting your SSID from a router with no encryption or authentication, that is the sign. Connecting to a unsecured network != rattling doorknobs, it equals accepting an invitation.”

So the question then becomes this. Say I buy a house and the Realitor who sold me my house (as he hands the keys to me) tells me he left the door open to it.

If, in the time I take to travel to the house, someone comes in and steals something from it (Say a stove), is that theft?

I got the house in a default state of open. Before I closed it, someone got in and took something. Sounds like theft to me.

You say this doesn’t really apply because it’s easy to secure it.. How about we put a lock on the door that can only be opened by a keypad and typing in 2, 16 digit codes into it while typing on a computer next to it to set various settings. Yeah, I know it isn’t that hard, but consider people who are older and not as familiar with technology as some of us are. They may not be able to understand you have to lock it even.

I’m on the side of allowing open WiFi. Heck, I keep mine open. But if my parents had WiFi, without me to set it up for them, they wouldn’t know they had to secure it (and would be upset if someone was using it without asking them first).

Jiminy says:

Re: Sign

“If, in the time I take to travel to the house, someone comes in and steals something from it (Say a stove), is that theft?”

Yes, because neither the previous owner, the Realtor, nor you put a sign on the door saying “Free Stoves.”

“But if my parents had WiFi, without me to set it up for them, they wouldn’t know they had to secure it (and would be upset if someone was using it without asking them first).”

Again, this not doorknob rattling. Your parents router is BROADCASTING that it is available for access to the internet. Advertising it, announcing it to the limits of its range. I can understand your parents wouldn’t want me to use it without their say so, but they DID say so when they broadcast the SSID, and left it unsecured.

Your parents aren’t foolish, they have you. And if they didn’t, the person at the store where they purchased it would have LOVED to (over)charge them to secure it. In any case, if they assume it is closed by default, the only thing wrong is their assumption. Not me connecting.

I don’t connect to routers that don’t broadcast, or that have security on them. It is obvious they don’t want me to. Open APs though, obviously do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sign

thats what the owner’s manual is for. there is no theft involved what-so-ever with an open wifi network. it is up to the technician, son, salesperson, production company to inform the everyday joe that they need to either secure their wifi or accept responsibility for what happens on their network.

as they said, just leaving the door open to your house is not an invitation. broadcasting your SSID is an invitation. your analogy was more along the lines of disabling your BSSID and not securing your network.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sign

Yeah, I know it isn’t that hard, but consider people who are older and not as familiar with technology as some of us are. They may not be able to understand you have to lock it even.

Ignorance, in this case, is no excuse. If you don’t know how to setup a wireless network properly then there are plenty of people you can hire to do so for you.

Xiera says:

A tough battle

You know, the whole idea that leaving a WiFi connection open is akin to granting permission to use it is a tough suggestion to make, especially when we argue that simply loading a file to a shared drive or ftp server does NOT imply permission to use (reference a story from earlier this year).

I would love to agree with you on both accounts — that having an open WiFi connection implies permission and that loading a file to a shared drive is not illegal — but these two views seem contradictory. I am of the opinion that what you do on your computer and network is your responsibility. Therefore, if you leave your WiFi network open, they -are- giving permission for others to use that network, and if you load a file to a shared resource, you -are- giving permission for others to download that file.

That said, implicitly giving others permission to use your WiFi connection by leaving it open should -not- make you liable for their actions, as the average user will not be able to actively monitor their network.

Jiminy says:

Re: A tough battle

I see a distinction though: If you are actively broadcasting the location of your share/ftp, and are openly inviting people to connect, and there are no credentials involved, and you put the files there purposely, I say you wanted me to download them. But if all the above isn’t true, we’re comparing apples and oranges.

If you did any of the above by mistake, your intentions and the result don’t match. But I still say you gave me permission to have that file.

In both cases, the ftp/router owner made a mistake that led to my access. But the mistake was inviting me in when you didn’t want me in. The invitation is still fact, and is why I committed no foul (assuming no third party has an interest in the file I downloaded).

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t see this as theft but as trespassing. You aren’t taking anything material from the owner but you are using someone’s equipment without the owners express permission.
In law, trespass can be:

1. the criminal act of entering another person’s land or property without permission of the owner or lessee; [1]
2. a civil law tort that may be a valid cause of action to seek judicial relief and possibly damages through a lawsuit – see trespass to land.[2]

You could argue, as many have, that leaving the network unsecured is implicit permission, but I would counter leaving my gate unlocked isn’t implicit permission to use my pool. You aren’t taking anything nor have you damaged my property or even deprived me of my use (unless I have to fight you for a floatee), but you are trespassing.

“If the owner of the WiFi access point left it open, then they have, by default, authorized access to that device. So it can’t possibly be a violation of that law. “

I don’t think you draw that conclusion that an unsecured WiFi is an implicit invitation for use. If you have legal precedence supporting this conclusion please link it.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Me trespassing?? Their stupid signal came right into my house without even knocking!! Seriously, the other day I was alone in the house and walking around, er, privately clad, and then I went to the PC and noticed my neighbor’s signal (bearing their last name)was in my house. I know it’s completely irrational, but it felt kinda weird.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think we can equate radio waves with physical intrusion, otherwise everyone with a cell phone, cordless phone, wireless keyboard or microwave oven could be accused of trespassing signals on someone’s property.

If you believe an open wi-fi is an invitation then does the wi-fi owner have permission to monitor your activity? After all, you know the network is unsecured so should you have an expectation of any privacy while using it? And if the owner attempts to use your computers resources while you are attached to his network is he misappropriating your equipment? It would seem turn-about is fair play.

Jiminy says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

He sure does. Why would I have an expection of complete privacy on a privately owned network I don’t control? If I pick you up from work, and ask to use your work phone, I wouldn’t be surprised if your company taps all the phones.

If I want complete security, I wouldn’t let a third party be involved in my internet traffic (my ISP doesn’t count, I pay them, and their TOS).

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As for my computer….depends on whether my door is open. As for monitoring? Going to have to say I’m sorta split on that one.

While I personally feel that he ought to continue to be able to exercise full authority over his network, another law is at work there. Even if I was at his house, on his phone, I think he’d have to get permission to listen in on the other phone. Same for monitoring my data in his stream.

If he asks and I say no, then he certainly has the right to disconnect me. He has the right to disconnect me at any time at will, and shut me out thereafter if he likes.

I also think he probably has the right to monitor things like how much data I stream, and for how long, maybe even wherefrom – with or without my permission. But as for the data itself – again that’s protected by other laws that are more cut and dry.

But yes, a certain amount of turnabout should be expected. If I leave my computer open and connect to his network, then he also only has what access I’ve given to him. That’s why good fences make good neighbors. It makes sense to get to know the guy. If we want to share it’s even better to trade restricted access than it is to trade full access if we have any doubts about each other. You know, go on a couple of dates before you get hitched.

Anonymous Coward says:

re: Phillip Vector / Sign

Your analogy is inappropriate.

If someone takes a your stove, you’re now deprived of a device to cook food.

Someone using your open wifi network does not permanently deprive you of anything.

It’s really more akin to someone looking in your window at your TV with a telescope. Of course the analogy breaks down a bit if anything else is visible.

I’m sure many people never notice someone using their network, not even a slowdown, so how is that permanently depriving someone of something (which is what theft is)?

Neither copyright infringement nor connecting to open wifi networks is theft. You’ll never convince a rational person that it is.

So what if it’s not completely trivial for an inexperienced user to secure their network? It’s extremely complex technology. The only way to make it easy is to get all of your tech from a single source that does all the hard stuff for you.

The people that made your computer don’t control what the people that made your OS and software and they none of them control the makers of your wireless access point. Even with a Dell router, dell pc, and preloaded operating system you still have to do some customization on both ends to make them talk securely.

Phillip Vector (user link) says:

Re: re: Phillip Vector / Sign

“The people that made your computer don’t control what the people that made your OS and software and they none of them control the makers of your wireless access point. Even with a Dell router, dell pc, and preloaded operating system you still have to do some customization on both ends to make them talk securely.”

I’m glad you agree with me that just because a WiFi connection is open doesn’t mean that the user wants people using it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: re: Phillip Vector / Sign

“I’m glad you agree with me that just because a WiFi connection is open doesn’t mean that the user wants people using it.”

I never said it was.

But how are they supposed to tell a network where the user wants to share access from the user that doesn’t even know it’s open? One is named “dlink” one is named “netgear”.

Which is open and which is ignorance?

Phillip Vector (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: re: Phillip Vector / Sign

Sorry.. When you use AC, I have no idea who it is and I tend to lump all you cowards into the same “person”.

How about using the name?? I name mine “FreeWiFi”. Pretty obvious. That way, it allows those with very little understanding not be set to “on” by default (Well, they still do, but at least it would be obvious as to what is allowed and what isn’t.

Cyn says:

Re: Re: Re:2 re: Phillip Vector / Sign

That works fine for people who know what they’re doing, but they’re not the problem in the first place.

People looking for free wifi, often have no way to differentiate between networks owned by ignorant users and networks that are intentionally left open.

Sure some that intentionally share name their networks, but I know at least two examples of people that do not change anything and don’t care if someone else uses it.

You cannot in good conscience criminalize people for the ignorance of others. Unless you want to live somewhere where you’re guilty until proven innocent. I sure don’t.

FYI: I’m the stove example refuting poster and the trespassing clarification poster.

George Bush says:

Re: Re: Re:2 re: Phillip Vector / Sign

Sorry.. When you use AC, I have no idea who it is and I tend to lump all you cowards into the same “person”.

What should matter is “what” was said, not “who” said it. Base your replies on “what” was said irrespective of “who” said it and you shouldn’t have that problem.

Jeff Wheeler says:

There is an answer

I was told about a symbol that can be used by those (like myself) who want to share their connection ” ||” was used in the old BBS days as a pipe. Therefor use me as a pipe to the internet.

As for this whole security being breached by allowing folks to pass through your “pipe” even if you have not symbolized it to be open I would liken it more to someone in the west passing by a river during a cattle drive. He is officially on a private ranch using a river owned by another man, but with no signs did he trespass? by taking a resource (data vs. the water in the river) that is constantly replenishing itself, did he steal anything. If he leaves no marks of his visit, no damage or no trash, did he create any damage to which the owner is owed restitution.

My argument… take only bits. leave only log-file entries.. don’t touch anything that is not public and there is no reason it should be illegal.

The final issue that is rarely argued is that there are two things that must be found for there to be means for a lawsuit. If there are not both then you have no case.

Must be wronged under the law at the provable culpability of one individual or entity.

And
Must have damages that can be quantified.

Just my 2cents

Anonymous Coward says:

RE: trespassing

“I don’t think you draw that conclusion that an unsecured WiFi is an implicit invitation for use. If you have legal precedence supporting this conclusion please link it.”

This is certainly a lot closer to the truth. But there’s a problem. There are laws stating that if you want to enforce a “no trespassing” law on your property you must post highly visible signs all over the place. IIRC, most laws state 20′ apart maximum.

How is someone to know that they’re not allowed if there are no signs?

A lot of people don’t care if you’re just passing through, or even if you decide to hunt or camp. If they did care, they can put up the signs and you’re in trouble if you ignore them.

Criminalizing open wifi access when you can tell a frelly open network from a stupid user’s network would be akin to changing the trespassing laws to remove the necessity for signs. Stupid, ignorant, and wrong.

How are people to know network A (call it “linksys”) whose owner doesn’t want other people using his bandwidth isn’t network B (call it “linksys” too since there’s nothing forcing people to change it), from the mom & pop coffee shop 30 feet away that has free & open wifi? You can’t.

Jeff Wheeler says:

There is an answer

I was told about a symbol that can be used by those (like myself) who want to share their connection ” ||” was used in the old BBS days as a pipe. Therefor use me as a pipe to the internet.

As for this whole security being breached by allowing folks to pass through your “pipe” even if you have not symbolized it to be open I would liken it more to someone in the west passing by a river during a cattle drive. He is officially on a private ranch using a river owned by another man, but with no signs did he trespass? by taking a resource (data vs. the water in the river) that is constantly replenishing itself, did he steal anything. If he leaves no marks of his visit, no damage or no trash, did he create any damage to which the owner is owed restitution.

My argument… take only bits. leave only log-file entries.. don’t touch anything that is not public and there is no reason it should be illegal.

The final issue that is rarely argued is that there are two things that must be found for there to be means for a lawsuit. If there are not both then you have no case.

Must be wronged under the law at the provable culpability of one individual or entity.

And
Must have damages that can be quantified.

Just my 2cents

Rick says:

Theft makes no sense

This whole thing is a little ridiculous because the owner of the WiFi who is paying for it is not harmed by someone else’s access (assuming the person who accesses doesn’t mess with any of the settings, doesn’t go through the computer, doesn’t take excessive amounts of bandwidth, etc). If that person isn’t harmed than it can’t be a crime. Now, you could argue that the ISP is harmed because they have lost potential revenue, so they may have a case.

As to the open door analogy, it is not at all similar to buying a house and having something from inside removed. The WiFi is not lost or taken, a small portion is just occupied that probably wouldn’t have been otherwise. It’s more similar to my walking into your open house and having a quick drink from the tap and then leaving. Would you ever know it happened? Probably not. Would you care if you did? Absolutely, you’d feel that your privacy was violated because someone was in your house. However, I wouldn’t feel the same way about my network. The WiFi signal is not something that needs to feel safe and secure. To complete the analogy: when you buy a house does the realtor give you the keys then walk you through how to lock and unlock the house, how to grant others access, etc. It is just assumed that we are all familiar at this point on how to operate locks and security access panels. Routers should eventually be the same way – but are certainly not there yet. It’s not like the realtor upon selling a house says “make sure to change your locks in case the owners had keys made that people still had.” Everyone just understands.

Are we at the point where people understand the need for securing their WiFi connection? I’d say not quite, we’re getting closer but still have a ways to go. I still don’t think it’s theft to piggyback on someone’s connection. If they tell you to stop and you don’t, they have a gripe. Until then, free is free.

Another analogy: if your neighbor plays music loud and you listen, are you “stealing” the music since you haven’t paid for it, or is information traveling over the air in an unsecured fashion available for anyone’s consumption?

alan says:

If I want to make my wifi available to other nearby users how do I indicate that it’s okay in a way that’s different from people who just leave their wifi open through neglect, ignorance, or some other reason?

Is it incumbent upon me to label it free?

Is it incumbent upon others deploying a wireless router to use the protection to keep people out?

Jiminy says:

Re: Re:

“If I want to make my wifi available to other nearby users how do I indicate that it’s okay in a way that’s different from people who just leave their wifi open through neglect, ignorance, or some other reason”

Put the word open or free in the SSID. Easy enough.

“Is it incumbent upon me to label it free?”

No. It would automatically answer the “does alan want me to connect?” question. But you don’t have to.

“Is it incumbent upon others deploying a wireless router to use the protection to keep people out?”

Yes. If you don’t want cold air in your house in the winter, you close the windows. If you didn’t want the cold air in, and had no windows, it would be incumbent upon you to purchase some, or board up the holes in the wall.

If you broadcast your SSID, and don’t secure your router, you are TELLING people it is ok to connect. Any analogy that doesn’t include you openly inviting people to use a resource simply does not apply.

I would like to hear an opinion on someone who turns off SSID broadcasting, but doesn’t turn on encryption. Is connecting to that network “doorknob rattling?” Is it theft?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I would like to hear an opinion on someone who turns off SSID broadcasting, but doesn’t turn on encryption. Is connecting to that network “doorknob rattling?” Is it theft?

If I run a small shop and I forget to lock the door or put up the “closed” sign one night after closing and come in late the next morning to find customers already milling about inside looking for me, are they trespassing?

Jiminy says:

Re: Der, well what if it's open by default?

My router told that laptop to feel free to connect. That laptop didn’t know my router existed until my router advertised its presence. Then my router assigned it an IP address and started carrying its traffic. I’m culpable for your connecting, but not for what you do with said connection.

Phillip Vector (user link) says:

Re: Re: Der, well what if it's open by default?

Sorry. You don’t get the benefits of denial (I’m not responsible what people do with my connection) and also get to be responsible for allowing the connection.

If that is the case, then someone who serves beer at a party to a guest who then goes out and kills someone while drunk driving isn’t responsible for what the guys does. This is simply wrong.

Either you say open WiFi means you are inviting people to your connection (and are responsible for how that access is used) or you say it isn’t and get to deny responsibility for what is done with your connection.

The technical aspects isn’t the issue here. TECHNICALLY, I’m not responsible for my driving because it’s my cars wheels moving and not me turning them manually. That’s simply wrong. Of course an “invitation” needs to be sent out or the WiFi technology falls apart.

it all comes down to this. Is it your responsibility to secure your WiFi or isn’t it?

Jiminy says:

Re: Re: Re: Der, well what if it's open by default?

I think of this the same way that in the US, ISPs are covered by safe harbor, as Jason mentioned. I’m not checking the bits flowing, I’m not filtering them, or restricting them. I’m not at all concerned with what they do.

Free WiFi isn’t beer, it is water. There are no inherently detrimental effects in water, it is your use of the water that could cause trouble. Beer contains alcohol, which is known to affect the brain. If I serve you too much beer, and you kill someone driving, that would be my fault. Would it ever be the dealerships fault? No. It would also not be my fault if I served you orange juice, and you killed someone.

It would be ok to let my kids have a pillow fight. It would not be ok to let them have an aluminum baseball bat fight. In both cases, I am allowing them to strike each other.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Der, well what if it's open by default?

Sorry. You don’t get the benefits of denial (I’m not responsible what people do with my connection) and also get to be responsible for allowing the connection.

Sorry Phillip, but the law says otherwise. See section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Der, well what if it's open by default?

Coward, I was referring to the so-called worst-case default setting scenario that has been beaten to death here and posing the question of the exact same scenario with a laptop. Yes, just like with the router, the settings can be changed on the computer.

The point was to debunk the previous what if scenarios with routers.

I could just as easily say, no, you are because not only is the router under your control, but once my computer connects, all of the control, such as IP address, network permissions, etc are assigned by your router.

Anonymous Coward says:

Using an open access point to connect to the internet = okay. Connecting to another computer on that same WiFi network, through conventional or unconventional means, without getting prior consent = NOT okay. Using somebody’s internet connection shouldn’t be a problem, unless you’re using all the available bandwidth or doing something illegal using that network. Just checking your email should not be a problem. Accessing the network itself is not criminal activity, but criminal activity can take place through that network, and any such criminal activity should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Again, the openness of the “another computer” is the combined responsibility of the owner/operator of the router, and the owner/operator of the other computer.

The router assigns all of the network permissions and decides which doors are open and which are shut, and the permissions on the other computer would have to be wide open for me to acces it as well.

Not that I would, but it’s basically like hauling your computer over into my living room with it logged in as administrator.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Using an open access point to connect to the internet = okay. Connecting to another computer on that same WiFi network, through conventional or unconventional means, without getting prior consent = NOT okay.

Did you get “prior consent” before connecting to Techdirt’s computers to make your comment?

alan says:

What's reasonable to assume?

Did I go to any additional effort to fine your router’s invitation that I would to find one intended to be free? No. In fact, I may have to go to additional effort to determine your router was not intentionally made free.

If you live in an apartment with one neighbor sharing his d-link router intentionally, and the other neighbor unintentionally sharing his d-link router it’s not readily apparent which is which.

To connect to either is equally as easy. In this scenario, I there’s no effort (like hacking past a password) for either choice.

If it’s illegal to use one, and not the other, the law is putting significant additional burden on the end user, and none on the owner of the router.

There are some rights that we must protect in order to retain them: trademarks, property lines, etc. Wifi feels like one.

Jiminy says:

Re: Re:

I’d take this a step further: It is a sunny day, and you’ve got a huge maple tree on your lawn. I’m hot, so I stand in the shade of said tree, which reaches the sidewalk in front of your house.

Have I deprived you of shade, or infringed on you? No. If you had no tree, so I picked the lock on your fence to get access to your gazebo, then obviously I have infringed on you.

Jiminy says:

Re: Yes it is illegal!

This is another analogy that leaves out the part where you openly invite use of the resource. If all the buses/trains have loudspeakers telling everyone it is “Free Transit Day,” is it still theft of service when you take a ride?

Here’s another analogy that works: I’m running a marathon. Random strangers are holding out cups of water. Is it theft to take one? How about if I jog off the route, into a house that has a sign saying, “Go Runners,” grab a bottle of water, then run out?

Random Strangers holding cups = Open AP
House with closed door = Secured Router

Phillip Vector (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Ah.. So by that logic, if I connect to your WiFi computer, I now have permission to enter your house and connect a cable to your computer.. Right?

I asked “Can I connect to your network?”. Your Computer said “Yes. Here’s your name to use, and if you want to go further, here the door out too.” I never stated I wanted to connect wirelessly.

See… This is what I mean. You can’t be literal with computer signals meaning permission. It simply doesn’t work that way. If you think it does, then I’m sure I can come up with a setup that will let me rob your bank account from what computers say to each other.

Jiminy says:

Re: Re:

But aren’t you negotiating how you will connect via 802.11a/b/g/n? Doesn’t that explicitly mean you are asking for a wireless connection? The only way to negotiate a wired connection would be to plug the wire in (correct me if I’m wrong anyone). That means there is no ambiguity in the type of connection you requested.

I would like to hear the bank account robbery scenario though, because I can’t think of one.

Phillip Vector (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“But aren’t you negotiating how you will connect via 802.11a/b/g/n?”

Are you? You made it as simple as “Can I connect”. My point is what you are saying. That there are lots of extra information there and breaking it down to it’s base element (Can I connect) leaves issues in.

The handshaking actually does check to see if you are authorized to access the network. It’s just off by default by allot of routers. Technically, Dell (or whoever owns your router) made the decision. Should I now be like steve dallas and sue them for loss of service? 🙂

“I would like to hear the bank account robbery scenario though, because I can’t think of one.”

Let’s see if I can wrap my head around something.. Without thinking to hard…

By allowing me to connect to your network, you are granting me (by default) access to your computer as well and all the files on it. If you happen to have your bank password saved on the browser, I can interperate that as permission to use said information to take your money (after all, you invited me onto your network. Right?)

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Phillip, you’re wrong. The port used by the router for wireless access is specific to the wireless component of hte router. That’s part of the request, part of the granting, it can specifically be denied by that port or set to require authentication specific to that port. It DOES explicitly announce that you’re connecting wirelessly.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Oh, and you’re also wrong about the bank thing. If I were visiting your house and saw your bank password by accident because you left it out, then I cannot pretend to blame you if I get on a computer somewhere and steal your money.

Interestingly enough, though (although many banks don’t practice this), the banks are often within the law to blame you and not give you your money back.

Jiminy says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I can see where you are coming from Phillip, you can only see my words, so it is important to use the right ones.

But you did raise an interesting point. I have an open router, and I have my entire My Documents folder shared. Have I also given you permission to read those files, since I allowed you access to the network, and shared those files on the same network? Have I given you permission to access my bank account?

I definitely say no to the second, and say maybe, even probably, to the first.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I tend to agree with poster #53’s explanation as to why open wifi isn’t stealing. Personally I leave mine open, name it FreeWifi, and broadcast my SSID – but then also turn on MAC filtering if I need to use it and the connection is slow.

However I wanted to post just to say Phillip, thanks for the Steve Dallas reference, that made my day. I keep Bloom County anthologies in my bathroom and read them daily 🙂 Thanks for the laugh!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ah.. So by that logic, if I connect to your WiFi computer, I now have permission to enter your house and connect a cable to your computer.. Right?

Phillip, you are ignoring the context of the discussion and questions here. Go read the article at the top of this page and note that we’re discussing connecting wirelessly to open WiFi networks, not physically entering peoples homes and jacking into their wired networks. It’s usually a good to read the articles around here before jumping into discussions about them.

Jason says:

There are instances that you want to have open wi-fi networks, I know not far from here, there are open wireless networks to provide a service to people.

This does not mean that everyone wants to have an open wi-fi connection, many do not. However there is also a cd that comes with almost all of the routers I have seen that helps you setup your router with a password, or disable wireless if you do not need it.

There is also the security of MAC filtering if you do not want a password on your network but you want a secured connection, with MAC filtering you can make it so that only people on a list can connect to your network.

The best analogy that I can think of for this sort of situation is TV aireals. You are getting a service for free, that others pay for. These are being broadcasted to your location, is it theft if you deside to turn on the TV and watch these without a service? What if I have a local broadcast channel that I broadcast to my community and I want everyone to be able to get it so I can inform everyone of whats going on?

Some may consider it theft, and some do not. You’re going to have the debate going on, computers are still a hot-button for scandle about various things. But ultimately it comes down to you did not run the CD that came with your router or choose not to lock it down. There are typically stickers on the routers as well that say “run the CD first”

Cyn says:

Most like trespassing, definitely not theft

If you don’t put up a single “NO TRESPASSING” sign, fence, physical or social barrier, cops will roll their eyes at you and allow you to waste very little of their time for trying to prosecute someone for walking across your property.

So why do we give any credence to people who take precisely zero measures to restrict access to their network WiFi network?

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say the presence of an open network equates to invitation, but at the same time I cannot say that the presence of an open network does not equate to invitation.

So if you add in the fact that most people who care enough about the matter would take some measure to secure it you end up with better than even odds that an open network is a deliberately made open to all.

Jiminy says:

Re: most correct analogy

No. Incorrect. For the same reason as every other flawed analogy.

Where is the sign on your car saying it is ok for me to drive off in it? If there is no sign, it is not ok. If you have a recording on loop playing from your car’s speakers, saying “Feel free to take a spin in me, it’s ok,” then your analogy is correct. In which case I’d peel off in said vehicle, cruise the strip, and not feel the slightest bit of guilt.

Landrash says:

Your not inviting, your router is.

It simply comes down to the fact that the one giving out the invites in a “open” network probably ain’t you in person but your router or access point.

If your access point ain’t secure and is sending out information that states that it is a OPEN wireless network and a random user comes along and tries to connect he’s basically asking your router if its ok for him to connect.

If the owner read the manual or ran the cd that came along with the product then the router will answer the unsuspecting user if its ok or not and depending on the setting the user will have to live with this.

If the user at hand decides not to listen to answer from the router and “breaks in” then its a totally different question.

The big problem here is that a lot of people want advanced technology to do rather basic stuff but they rarely take the time to read the manual or even to read the ELUA and therefor end up doing things they did not intend to do.

chris (profile) says:

BUT IT HURTS MY FEELINGS!!!!

I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT COMPUTERS AND I FEEL STUPID AND INFERIOR WHEN SOMEONE REMINDS ME OF THAT. I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE INTERNET OR SECURITY AND I DON’T THINK I SHOULD HAVE TO LEARN BECAUSE I ONLY READ AT THE FOURTH GRADE LEVEL.

I DON’T HAVE TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT TELEVISION TO WATCH AMERICAN IDOL. MY TV PROTECTS ME AGAINST BOOBS AND LIBERALS AND VIDEO GAMES AND THE INTERNET SHOULD TOO.

YOU HAVE TO CHANGE EVERYTHING AND PASS A BUNCH OF LAWS SO I DON’T HAVE TO ADMIT TO BEING STUPID AND NAIVE. I WANT TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF THE INTERNET WITHOUT LEARNING ANYTHING OR TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR MYSELF OR MY ACTIONS.

AND DON’T SAY THIS IS UNREASONABLE OR I WILL CRY. INTERNET PEOPLE ARE MEAN.

Jiggily says:

Governements position

I know that in the US military, every computer has a splash screen that basically says “Do not use this Computer unless you have been authorized by the systems owner”. It says this because back in the day some one hacked into a military system, got caught, and successfully used the defense in a court case that: “The system did not tell me I wasn’t allowed to access it, so I thought I was invited into the system.”

In my book that means there is already a precedence for this at the federal level.

JM2C

Anonymous Coward says:

People are far too confused about what an open network really means. It’s not property, even though we sometimes think of it that way. If a person simply hops through a router to the internet, then they are simply using a renewable resource of bandwidth. Now, if they start snooping around at computers on the network, they are entering a system and privacy becomes an issue.

Personally, I have no problem with people entering my unsecured wifi router. That’s why I set it up. It’s like lending a cup of flour to my neighbors. I have it limited down to 768k of bandwidth and segmented from the rest of my network. If they are in a situation where they need to use it, they are free to do so. I know that I have had to use other peoples networks while my connection was being worked on or while waiting to have it installed, so why wouldn’t I offer it in return?

We are becoming far to self absorbed and greedy as a whole. We need to reintroduce common sense to laws and start being more realistic and neighborly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Issues with the analogies...

The thing is, the technological interaction is not the same as the human interaction. Your average guy just setting up wireless for his house doesn’t really know that it’s going to be available in the street, and what he thinks of this isn’t the same as what the technology does:

Network/House: Hey, there’s a house over here.
Laptop/Random wanderer: Great, I’ll automatically try to enter it. Can I come in?
House: Sure. [Your address is 192.168.1.2]/[Mind the step.]
Wanderer: Can I take a drink from a tap?
House: That’s why you’re here, go ahead.

The dialogue between the wanderer and a person in the house might be completely different, although the person might get them some water. *might*. While the laptop and the network interact in an “open by default unless told otherwise” way, that may not be the intention of the owner of the network. The owner is still paying for the water used by the wanderer (tank water is not part of the metaphor), or the bandwidth. And the wanderer might want to refill his car from the tap (ie use the network to view large images or download something), which costs the house owner more.

Jason says:

Analogy #11382

If you build a sidewalk in such a way that it looks like a public easement even though it’s on strictly private property, you have no ground for prosecuting so-called trespassers who walk on your sidewalk.

In fact, where I live the law dictates that if you open up a road to the public you can reserve the right to deny access to anyone at any time. However, if you fail to exercise that right and simply let anyone and everyone access the road year after year with no notice as to the fact that it’s private and that you retain your rights, then you lose the right to deny access and it becomes a public road.

Dutch says:

Is open WiFi the same as an open garage?

Jiminy I think your analogy is wrong…

If someone leaves their garage door open does that mean it’s legal for you to go inside, use their tools or whatever is in there until they notice? They (probably) paid for what’s in their garage just like they paid for their internet. Just because someone isn’t aware of the vulnerability of an open WiFi doesn’t make it right to use until they fix it. It’s almost like saying when a security vulnerability in some peice of software is exposed, and a patch is later released, that it should now be legal to exploit that vulnerability and because the person should have known about the patch and closed the hole.

My 2 cents.

Jiminy says:

Re: Is open WiFi the same as an open garage?

Yep, as stated, this isn’t a vulnerability. It is a misconfiguration of a router that YOU are responsible for configuring to your liking.

And you have yet another flawed analogy: where is the sign saying it is ok to use the tools? where is the loudspeaker broadcasting that it is ok to step into the garage and get out of the sun, and maybe grab a hammer if you have to re-shoe your horse??

Anonymous Coward says:

Connectable v. authorized

The issue is what constitutes authorization. How does one demonstrate that another is authorized to use the wifi just as how does one demonstrate that you can enter a house.

With the house, authorization is in the form of a verbal or written grant of permission from the owner or the person authorized by the owner (roommate). Here the default state is not authorized and authorization is expressly given in some way.

On the other hand, with wifi, there is no way to demonstrate authorization except through allowing or disallowing people to connect. If the wifi is open but the default state is not authorized then we can never proceed and the analogy with the house is broken.

To repair the analogy with the house, we have to make the default state not authorized meaning we set the normal state of the wifi to secured. Then authorization comes through being able to connect when permission is given in the form of a password or key.

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s a depressing lack of personal ethics in many of the comment threads on this blog. The prevailing philosophy is too often: if I can do it, and want to do it, then it’s right for me to do it.

Common sense dictates that an open door does not equal an invitation to enter and drink from the owner’s faucet. If you can’t see this, further discussion of the specifics is pointless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Common sense dictates that an open door does not equal an invitation to enter and drink from the owner’s faucet. If you can’t see this, further discussion of the specifics is pointless.”

Common sense dictates that an open door WITH A SIGN SAYING COME IN AND DRINK WATER IF YOU ARE THIRSTY does equal an invitation to enter and drink from the owner’s faucet. If you can’t see this, further discussion of the specifics is pointless.

Fixed that for you.

Jiminy says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No.

You are the first person this morning to fall back on the flawed analogy, or you just needed a clarification. I’m not sure which. But I was actually the Coward that you responded to, I forgot to put my name.

In any case, if you look at what I added to the OP’s statement, you can see how I fixed his analogy to match how DHCP works. In order to answer your question with a yes, I have to make your scenario match how DHCP works. How would I do that? By adding a SIGN over the faucet saying, “Feel free to drink when thirsty.”

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Okay, so it’s more like a recording that recognizes the words, “May I drink?” and automatically says “yes” to everyone.

Here is what goes on when a network connection takes place: There is ACTUALLY a data signal sent from the computer that actually requests permission to connect to the network. There is actually a response from the router that either says “granted” or “denied”. There is an actual and NOT an assumed request/permission transaction taking place

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Coward, get over the open door analogy and don’t be so sad. You’re just completely misreading our philosophy because you’re ignorant about networks 🙂

Trust me when I say that I most earnestly DO NOT believe that if I can and want to then it’s right.

Think of it more as a knob lock and a dead-bolt. If the owner of the house gives me a key, then the authority to enter rests with that key. Does that mean I should be a jackass when I come in? No probably not. If the key only opens the knob-lock, then I only have the authority to enter when the deadbolt is open. I can’t just presume upon my having a key to the one lock as an invitation to crack the other.

When the router assigns me an IP address, that’s giving me a key. Cool thing is that the router can also be configured to control just exactly what that key does and does not allow me to access.

The thing I sharply disagree with is that I should somehow feel bad for accessing what I have been given the authority to access just because the owner doesn’t realize he’s given that authority to me. How could I have possibly known? Should I presume he’s ignorant or foolish?

Let’s give the commenters the benefit of the doubt: How many of you would, if your neighbor told you that he didn’t want you or anyone else connecting to his wireless network but he didn’t know how to stop you, would you then continue to take advantage of the open access?

I certainly wouldn’t. I think most would even take the extra step of trying to help him learn how to set it how he wants (if I felt the need I might make a disclaimer that the choice is ultimately up to him as to how to protect himself and that I won’t be held responsible if someone hacks him while using the method I suggest), but I would help him – unless of course he belligerently and ignorantly went around calling me a thief. Then I might just consider ignoring both him and his connection – let others do what they will.

So put your mind at ease. It’s not a lack of ethics on our part, but rather an expectation of a higher ethic on his part: that he take responsibility for knowing what messages he’s sending.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I get how networks work. I understand that, in order to be safe, people should lock their doors and wireless networks.

The average Joe, on the other hand, might get that he needs to lock his doors, but might not get that he should lock his wireless, or even know how.

The average Jane might not get that it’s wrong to use an open wireless network she happens to stumble upon.

But let’s be honest: we’re talking about the average computer geek sucking free wifi from people. That’s the ethical lack.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, you certainly don’t seem to understand how they work because you’re still talking like it’s putting a lock on a door. The way this physically and technically works, no one stumbled into your network. Your network went out and got the attention of whoever was listening and not metaphorically, but in point of fact actually, ACTUALLY sent the message: “permission granted”

It’s not “in order to be safe…people should lock their….wireless networks,” but rather, “in order not to be explicitly, actively, de facto giving people actual (again ACTUAL – NOT loosely-defined-metaphorical-analogous-because-I-want-to-then-I-can, but ACTUAL)permission to use their wireless network, they should use one of any number of methods to change the network from public to private.”

NO, we’re not talking about sucking free wifi from people. And please don’t follow “Let’s be honest..” with a blatantly false pejorative, and expect agreement.

No exaggeration intended, we’re talking about ignorant and lazy people using the excuse, “I didn’t know I was responsible for what I was actively and openly broadcasting, and now I’m upset about it, and since I’m willfully ignorant, it must be your fault. I want damages.”

That’s the ethical lack.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

All of your comments still amount to: unless they lock it down, it’s open to all.

I agree people should “lock” their stuff. I don’t agree that “not locking” justifies taking. Sorry … ethics still trumps the technology here, despite attempts to justify otherwise.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“All of your comments still amount to: unless they lock it down, it’s open to all.”

No they most certainly do not. I would equally agree with the poster who suggested something in the way of giving your wireless network a name like: PrivateUseOnly. That’s not high tech at all, and because it is written in human language, I would then have to assume that they don’t invite public use whether their router says so or not. I wouldn’t even bother them to suggest they lock it down. I would figure, “This person intends me to ignore the otherwise clear invitation of their router.” Locked or not, I’d steer clear.

Sorry, ethics still trumps ignorance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

ethics still trumps ignorance

You’re not arguing ethics, you’re arguing ignorance.

First, your claim is that an unsecured wireless router is an open invitation, whether the user knows it or not. I go back to the faucet/spigot outside a house: open, but not an invitation.

Just because you can access a thing (and, in most devices, you have to choose to connect to that “open” network), doesn’t mean you should.

Further, you choose to make the assumption that an unsecured wireless router means the owner knows the network is open and wants you to access that network. You could just as easily assume that the open network is due to ignorance on the owner’s part.

In either case, you (someone who knows how networks work) know the results of using someone else’s wifi, so your greater knowledge puts a greater responsibility on you.

If both parties are ignorant, then common sense should prevail: unlocked does not mean an invitation to all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There’s a depressing lack of personal ethics in many of the comment threads on this blog. The prevailing philosophy is too often: if I can do it, and want to do it, then it’s right for me to do it.

Huh? I think you’re making stuff up and being duplicitous. I haven’t read any comments here like that. I could kill my neighbors, but I sure don’t think that makes it right for me to do it. You assertion that most of here would think otherwise is farcical.

Common sense dictates that an open door does not equal an invitation to enter and drink from the owner’s faucet. If you can’t see this, further discussion of the specifics is pointless.

If you then go and put a sign in the yard inviting everyone to do so then that does indeed “equal an invitation”. If you can’t see this, further discussion of the specifics with you truly is pointless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t agree that the majority of people equate an unsecured network with a sign inviting everyone in. This is a problem of ignorance, certainly, but those with greater knowledge have greater responsibility.

Furthermore, the sign is an assumption on your part … and one that happens to (conveniently) work in your favor.

Anonymous Dude says:

um...

I guess as some others point out, the house analogy or open gate analogy doesn’t quite hold up in this example. Those are examples of a person entering the perimeter of another’s property. If I’m in my apartment, I’ve made no effort to receive signal beyond the limits of my walls, the signal has come to me.
I guess it would be more like a stranger coming into my house with an encyclopedia set. They’re his books, but he’s on my property, so if I need to look up who Charles Babbage is and he’s not using that particular book, then what’s the harm in me using it as long as i don’t rip out any pages and put the book back in the same condition when i’m done?? Would he have cause to sue me for reading his book even though he came into my apartment uninvited??

VERSE says:

To all those people saying if I leave my front door open is that an invitation to steal, I say this; A house is not a WiFi connection, there are different laws for different items/services/goods because the characteristics of those are different.

I have no opinion on the subject other than if the WiFi connection is in a public place I would use it, otherwise I’d assume the owner of that network was not knowledgeable enough to set this up. OTOH Most ISP’s force at least WEP encryption with sent out routers.

Mr. Bill (profile) says:

On The Criminality Of WiFi Piggybacking

Consider my friend B. H. He asked me about how to connect his wife’s laptop and his laptop to his broadband connection at his new home. I answered the question by giving him a wireless router as a house warming gift and installed it for him. For security I activated WPA and MAC Address Filtering. I then set up each laptops client to connect to the router. I gave him the necessary passwords and complete written instructions how to add a computer to his network. I returned several weeks later and learned that he had given his daughter a laptop for school. I asked him if he had any problem, setting up the client in his daughters laptop, to connect to his network. He looked me as though I had grown horns. He also complained that the connection to his daughter’s laptop was intermittent. I checked the client in his daughters laptop and found that she was actually connecting to another persons unsecured network.

Now comes the key question? Was his daughter stealing service from the unsecured network or was it simply a matter of not being networking literate?

Oh by the way, I immediately set up the client in his daughters laptop to connect to his network. That solved the problem of the intermittent connection.

MythEdge says:

The whole thing

If this was such a huge issue for everyone, then just have the config for a router set to require a password upon setup. Not only does this “force” your user to lock his door, this also allows those who wish to keep their networks open to just unlock it. It would solve everyone’s issue while not dropping any type of sales.

And just to note, while I’m on travel myself if I find an open network while roaming, I’m sorry. 9 times out of 10 an open network is much faster than any hotel / hotspot so I usually hop on for 10 minutes if I have to send something.

– Sorry ..?

Jiminy says:

Re: The whole thing

You know why this doesn’t happen. It is for the same reason you can press cancel to get past the login screen in Windows 95. Security and Ease of Use are very often inversely proportional.

Imagine how many parents would be returning routers because the kids’ laptops can never connect to it, based on the fact it is secure (too secure?) out of the box.

DavidM (profile) says:

You keep making the same mistake

While I agree in principle that using an open wi-fi connection does little if no harm to the the party responsible for paying for the service, your justification for your position is completely faulty.

Just because I leave the door to my home unlocked doesn’t give you the authority to use my couch, stove, contents of my pantry and my tv. Nor does me leaving my car keys in the ignition of my car and its doors unlocked give you the authority to get into my car and drive it where ever you’d like to go, even if you did happen to return it.

I’m certian that in any court of law you’d be guilty of some crime in either case.

This is simply a “making available” issue. Just because you believe that something appears to have been made available, does not give you the right use that thing without permission. The concept of “making available” does not infer or imply that you have the right to use said item without permission. There is a significant and distinct difference between the concept of “free: please take one”, and “I found a wallet with money in it, so I guess the owner wants me to have the money.”

Jason says:

Re: You keep making the same mistake

Umm..you keep calling it a door. BUT IT’S IN MY HOUSE!!!! I didn’t walk into your house. You broadcast your stuff into mine. AND that alone without the ask/approve relationship of my computer and your network would be enough to use your connection.

Please note: The following is NOT an analogy it is actually the same darn thing*.

If you set up one of those radio shack radio station kits and broadcast the signal into my house on a public frequency without any scrambling, then it’s your job to realize that my radio can pick it up and it’s your responsibility to protect your privacy during your broadcast.

*Except that with the wifi, my radio, after picking up your signal, sends your station a request for permission to listen in and your station returns the response, “Yes, permission granted, you’re tuned into KMON-IN radio.

Jiminy says:

Re: You keep making the same mistake

Please read post number 53. If the posts aren’t numbered, click the Flattened link before the first post. You can always switch back to pick up the thread. We’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve read a quick primer on DHCP, please stop using the same, tired, faulty analogy.

“Just because I leave the door to my home unlocked doesn’t give you the authority to use my couch, stove, contents of my pantry and my tv.”

I did not assume any authority, you have a sign on the door saying “Feel free to come in and have a seat, the tv’s already on, and the remote is on the coffee table.”

“Nor does me leaving my car keys in the ignition of my car and its doors unlocked give you the authority to get into my car and drive it where ever you’d like to go, even if you did happen to return it.”

This is DHCP, you don’t own a car, you own a car dealership, and playing over the loudspeaker at full blast is an invitation to take any car on an extended test drive, no questions asked.

Analogies are fun, but make sure you use the right ones, and understand what is actually happening.

Jiminy says:

Re: Re:

“The owner probably did not intend to leave their house open and broadcasting “come in”.”

And I probably did not intend to “trespass” as it is being called, or “commit a theft of service,” or just plain old “steal.”

Does what we both probably intended cancel each other out? If so, I have a great tiebreaker: Let’s look at what we actually did. They invited me in freely, with no reservations, and I accepted your offer.

The design of the perfectly functioning, and perfectly capable of securely operating router is of no import. They chose to let it run insecurely (through ignorance or desire), which occasioned my use of it.

Bernard says:

Some people just don't listen

It has nothing to do with “making available” ; applying already mis-applied “Intellectual Property” concepts (ie. in this case copyright law) doesn’t help — it only obscures and confuses further, about what is at heart a simple matter.

An “unsecured” wireless router is more accurately described as an “unrestricted” router. It is, by default and by design, *offering* connections to anyone who asks.

You can make all the allusions to home and your front-door that you like: that just shows you don’t understand what you’re talking about — it’s *not* an appropriate metaphor for the case.

The example given earlier, of marathon runners accepting offered dixie-cups of water along their route is a much closer analogy (though presumably, all the good samaritans with their outstretched arms may be presumed to understand what their doing). The explanation given in comment #53 is an extremely good as an illustration of how the technology works, and how the concepts apply in a less technological context.

If you don’t understand this, read the thread over again, till you understand the basic principles. Repeating misleading comparisons won’t be any more persuasive the umpteenth time around than the first.

Allen (profile) says:

It may not be now, but it will be soon

I dont think that its reasonable to assume that a mindless protocol has the right to make invitations on behalf of the technologically handicapped.

And its all academic anyway. Once the monopolists start charging by the MByte, you can kiss good bye to your basic assumption that “borrowing” internet access harms no one. And then you and your hippy wifi steeling ways are going to jail son!

Jiminy says:

Re: It may not be now, but it will be soon

“I dont think that its reasonable to assume that a mindless protocol has the right to make invitations on behalf of the technologically handicapped.”

How many times can Grandpa fall asleep on the remote before the cable company stops crediting him for the pay-per-view movies he orders whilst napping?

Jiminy says:

Re: Re: It may not be now, but it will be soon

And to be a bit more direct, that assumption is not only reasonable, but guaranteed to be factual due to the wire connecting that router to outlet.

The right was given to the mindless protocol as soon as they hooked the internet to it and powered it up, and chose not to secure it.

Really, if the technologically handicapped can’t be bothered to read the manual, they aren’t handicapped, they are choosing to let the machine make the decisions for them.

someone else says:

If someone is going to leave their AP open, and my AP is down then by all means I’m going to use it for some casual browsing, but if my neighbor doesn’t want me, or anyone else to use up their bandwidth, then ask someone to put a key on it. Even I will put a key on it for them. By leaving an AP open, it’s like Best Buy putting up a TV and couch with a movie playing. It is practically asking you to come in, sit down, and watch the movie. It’s says “Hey I don’t you taking up space in the store.” The idea that people don’t want you to use something, but leave it open, or easily available is just dull-minded on their part. My router is encrypted with a 62-character key, and doesn’t broadcast it’s ESSID. I think that is enough of a signal to ‘not use my wireless’. Simply put, use the same logic that you would with a car, or house. Find a way to limit access, whether it is not broadcasting the ESSID, or putting even a simple encryption key on it. Yeah it can be cracked, but so can a car be hotwired, or a house be broken into.

Aquaadverse says:

Easy solution.

The fact that nothing is stolen and I can still use the Internet does nothing to make the quite clear clause in my ISP contract stating that unsecured APs is illegal sharing of service. They quite rightly see it as running a splitter to my neighbors house.

As far as the intent of the owner, simple. Make all wireless routers come secured using WEP as a default and the last 6 digits of the MAC as default key. If you find an open AP, since it would take effort to make it so, the widely use freeloader excuse would be true.

John Q. Public says:

question

whats better: take 1 min to protect your connection or prosecute and imprison ?

im sure you people that think its a crime will feel better with tens (not sure on the min sentence here, 100’s maybe) of thousands of dollars spent on punishment and not schools, roads, immunizations, pest control, levee’s…

peace.

dave elliott says:

The facts and just the facts please on securing wifi

Hmm, much stumbling around in this thread with incorrect analogies and lame attempts to avoid responsibility for securing networks

1. WiFi is a radio broadcast medium; someone using your WiFi access point is highly unlikely to be on your property. So no more house trespassing analogies please.

2. So lets talk about what your rights are if you leave something on the public sidewalk… bet your comfort zone is starting to evaporate now if you were insisting you shouldn’t have to secure your network… lets next go a little further out into the street… now how comfortable is the assertion that you shouldn’t need to secure. Or are you someone who never locks your car doors ( be sure not to tell your insurance company if you are because your rates will sky rocket)

So lets call unsecured networks what they are; reckless invitations to any passerby to use your bandwidth and like prepaid cellphones an avenue for criminals to hide their network activity. But hey, you probably don’t believe in identity theft or gun locks either if you don’t understand the need to secure your network

Anonymous Coward says:

I never realized that under our system of laws “hardware” is now endowed with the “right” to grant permission to use.

I always thought only “human beings” could do that.

As an aside, “locking down” a wireless access point is not exactly the easiest thing to do. Even after scouring the internet, I have yet to find a single set of instructions that is comprehensive and written in a manner that is easily understood by a “non-techie”.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Actually, Coward, that’s exactly what we’ve done. That IS how our laws work.

Our laws allow for money to be released from bank accounts, for contracts to be signed, and even bombs to be deployed all at the beck’n call of computers. This is of course based upon the presumption that someone with appropriate authority has instructed the computer to do so.

If you gave your user ID and password to someone else at work, then you are personally, ethically, and legally responsible for their exercise of that authority, whether they did what you intended or not. If you operate a router that broadcasts a signal, which is programmed so as to grant permission to all requests, and you have the sole authority and power to change that configuration, then you are solely responsible for the message being sent: That it’s okay to connect and use this network.

Welcome to the NBA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I never realized that under our system of laws “hardware” is now endowed with the “right” to grant permission to use.

I always thought only “human beings” could do that.

Human beings put up signs and setup hardware. You’re responsible for the sign you put up or how you setup hardware.

As an aside, “locking down” a wireless access point is not exactly the easiest thing to do. Even after scouring the internet, I have yet to find a single set of instructions that is comprehensive and written in a manner that is easily understood by a “non-techie”.

Then hire someone competent to do it for you.

Jiminy says:

Analogy Free

The only people that should be arguing that there is anything wrong with connecting to an open AP are people who think that I am trespassing in my example in post #53, or can contradict Jason’s second paragraph in post #129.

It is your wireless router. If you don’t want people to use it, don’t let it say “come use me whenever you want, for as long as you want”.

Between friends, family, the store, the instruction manual, the tech support number in the manual, the internet in general, the manufacturer or a networking website in particular, your router is advertising it will provide internet to anyone who wants it solely because you have made no effort to have it do otherwise.

Or you share your internet freely.

My laptop has no clue which one you are, but both types have chosen not to deny me access. Thanks.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Invitations

Many people mention that broadcast of SSID is like an invitation. I agree.

But then, the guest’s REQUEST for an IP address is akin to courteously asking “Thanks for inviting me to your Wi-Fi connection. What IP address should I use within your LAN?”

If the Wi-Fi AP responds with an IP address, not only has the guest been invited, but they have been ACTIVELY SUPPORTED IN THEIR EFFORT TO CONNECT by the host AP. Basically, the host has invited you, then issued you a set of keys.

Whether ethical or not, and whatever the legal precedent, there should be no crime found in using such an open Wi-Fi AP.

If you don’t want “guests”, use ANY security: WEP, WPA, MAC address filters, turn off DHCP, don’t broadcast SSID, turn down RF power, bend down antennas (note that the last three are weak defenses).

And for the Luddites: don’t blame the freeloaders. Blame the companies that sold you equipment with a default setting of “party at my house”.

dude says:

RE:

This line of arguing that by having an open ap you give permission to use that open network is wrong. I dont have a fence around my front lawn. That is not an invitation for people to hang about in my front lawn. I am not required to post keep out signs. Ask the dee-d-dee skateboarders removed by police last month. The same applies to my ap its open status is NOT an invitation. The fact that some here see it as an invitation just show your lack of respect for others. Even if something of mine is openly available established rules and laws show that you are required to obtain permission first and if you dont you may open yourself to consequence imposed by the owner of whatever you used without permission.

Jason says:

Re: RE:

Dude, part of the step-by-step process of my computer connecting to yours includes my computer sending your router a de facto request for permission. Your computer then grants that per YOUR network rulesm which YOU and YOU alone are responsible for.

It’s not that we “see” some grey area undefined boundary as an invitation”. It’s that your router sends de facto permission -> de facto – permission in fact, expressed, explicit, with no need to read anything into it or add anything to it, there is NO ASSUMPTION TO BE MADE to conclude that permission has actually already been given.

It’s not that we think hey, anything that’s open and up for grabs is rightly ours. It’s that we think hey, this guy’s computer just actually told mine that I have permission to use his network.

It’s not sneaky. It’s not disrespectful. I’ll even add to what I said before: If you simply told me one day that you don’t like me and you are only leaving it open for the other neighbors, but I am not allowed to use it anymore whether it’s open or not — Well, I would then have to accept that the permission you previously granted was now revoked AND that a future transmission of permission from your router is not enough without something further directly from you.

Even if your network name, as it appeared on my wireless signal search dialogue said, “PleaseDon’tUse”, I would respond in kind.

I can respect that. I can’t respect you calling a perfectly harmless and innocent act a violation just because the owner is ignorant or lazy. I can’t respect you calling me a disrespectful thief just because you don’t know what the he-dong-hey-heck you’re talking about and haven’t bothered to research it further.

ONE MORE TIME: I am not hanging out in your network; your network is extending into my house. In an open network, permission is never simply assumed, the router actually responds to a sent request for access with de facto permission.

Jiminy says:

Re: RE:

How do you read all the previous flawed analogies, see them debunked, and do the same thing again?

“This line of arguing that by having an open ap you give permission to use that open network is wrong. I dont have a fence around my front lawn.”

This is DHCP.

If it helps, imagine I screamed that like that guy from 300. That’s how forcefully I’m trying to make this point:

If, when you BOUGHT your house, there was a sign on the lawn saying, “all skateboarders feel free to hang about here,” and you never took that sign down (maybe you always enter from the side, and didn’t even KNOW there was a sign there), who would that police officer have found at fault for the skaters playing in your grass?

Jason says:

Re: Re: RE:

Jiminy, I’m curious about your thoughts on this:

“If you simply told me one day that you don’t like me and you are only leaving it open for the other neighbors, but I am not allowed to use it anymore whether it’s open or not — Well, I would then have to accept that the permission you previously granted was now revoked AND that a future transmission of permission from your router is not enough without something further directly from you.

Even if your network name, as it appeared on my wireless signal search dialogue said, “PleaseDon’tUse”, I would respond in kind.”

Sound about right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: RE:

Ask the dee-d-dee skateboarders removed by police last month.

Yeah, right. And were they arrested and charged with a crime? If so, where can the police report be found?

I didn’t think so.

Even if something of mine is openly available established rules and laws show that you are required to obtain permission first and if you dont you may open yourself to consequence imposed by the owner of whatever you used without permission.

Did you get Techidrt’s permission before you posted your comment here? If not, you’re a hypocrite.

Schmo says:

Seems a silly argument in the end.

Had a router and wireless adapter installed by Comcast 4 years ago. Had them do it so I didn’t fark it all up as I know diddly from nothing.

No manual.
No instruction except ‘click this to get onto the internet’.
No idea of anything like other people using my connection.

This year my wireless adapter drivers uninstalled themselves, got help from Comcast, was told, ‘Hey, you might wanna secure your network, eh?’

Since then I’ve had to find my connection on my own (YES, Comcast has capacity for true suck) and noticed all the others in the ‘hood, secured and not.

Mine’s secured now, but really – it’s in the very air. If my security’s not at stake and I’m not inconvenienced, I don’t really give a toss if someone hops the train as it rolls through their livingroom unasked for, nor do I have any recourse anyway. Comcast wants money for the service, and there’s plenty paying, so they call it ‘stealing’; but they cannot charge for ‘air’.

Yet. 🙂

Jiminy says:

Re: using services for which you aren't paying for

No. Just, no. There are over 100 posts that say why you are wrong, I wrote some of them myself.

I don’t pay for the electricity in your house, or your subscription to XM radio, but if I stand in the street, and listen to the sounds of the radio coming through your window, I’m not causing you to pay higher prices for electricity or satellite radio. Nor have I stolen your services.

If you don’t want me to hear your radio, turn it down, turn it off, or close your window. This strikes me as incredibly simple.

Schmo says:

Re: using services for which you aren't paying for

Hrm. I’d say it’s Comcast causing me to pay higher prices and using something no one can control or measure as an excuse to do so.

Sorta like DRM excuses: we hassle paying customers for reasons that we cannot possibly quantify (piracy), with results that we also…cannot possibly quantify (prevented piracy). But since you’re actually paying us, bend over and have a nice day!

I think in both situations, providers are just doin’ it wrong.

*is getting ‘Adapt or Die!’ tattoo*

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: using services for which you aren't paying for

When you piggyback, you are using services for which you are not paying for and causing the people who pay for the service to pay higher prices. That is theft.

When you posted your comment you used Techdirt’s servers, internet service and electricity, none of which I suspect you are paying for. By your logic, that makes you a thief. Why should anyone care about the opinion of a thief?

ipit (user link) says:

trespassing

Wouldn’t it be the owner of the wireless device broadcasting into your living space? So who’s the actual trespasser.
I feel it is the owner of the AP’s responsibilty to secure his network. Say I give my kid a laptop and secure my own wireless network in which I have firewalled and filtered for my child’s use. Then someone nextdoor leaves a wide open unsecure network and my child accesses that network to view porn, who’s in trouble now.

B. Stark says:

Theft or Not?

When I was a kid I saw a stand outside of a store that had post cards on it. I looked them over and over, and could not find a price listed anywhere. They were not within the physical boundaries of the store, so I thought they were free. I took one with a pretty picture. Later my parents found it and beat the tar out of me. It was stealing. It belonged to someone else, and I took it without permission. Just because it was available to take did not make it free.

I see wifi as the same scenario. Just because you can take it, does not make it free. You have not entered into any type of agreement with the owner of the wifi, therefore you are an uninvited user, and are stealing. What are you stealing exactly? Pretty much nothing, but the value of what you are stealing is not part of the ethical debate. Are you taking something without permission or not? If you connect to someones wifi without specifically retaining the owners permission, you are theiving.

That said, I leave my wifi open for any and all to use. I want people to use any open wifi connection, because I want to use wifi when I am not at home also, so this is my way of keeping the karma even.

dr_when says:

Say someone stops by my house and turns on an outside faucet and takes a drink, turns off the water and leaves. Perhaps they were trespassing but they aren’t going to jail or paying a fine even if they were caught. And who cares and how would I know they drank a gallon of water? And if they needed that water so badly I am glad to be of help. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Trails says:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's WiFi?

If I’m out in my yard and my neighbor is walking in front of the windows naked, whose fault is it that I can see it? How far does it really have to go before you say “hey, maybe I should shut the blinds” or “Who cares?”

Ok, it’s a stretch, but what reasonable expectation can you have to hide or protect something that’s actually available to me in MY house, whether I put it there or not? If my neighbor has a tree/bush or whatever hanging over the fence or across my property line, I can cut it…period. So, if your signal reaches my router, thanks!!

Everyone’s making the point of “you wouldn’t leave your keys in the door…”, but what the question is “you wouldn’t park your car in my garage, or plant a tree in my yard, or build me a shed… would you?”

Ethical? Probably not. Illegal? Shouldn’t be. Ignorance is what makes the world go around, but that doesn’t make it illegal!! If I don’t know the first thing about plumbing, and I end up with a new Tub instead of a new shower, who do you call and who do you blame?

At which point are the knowledgeable forced to take responsibility for the ignorant? I’ve heard that the individual human is actually getting dumber (more dumber?) with the creation of new technology, but I really can’t believe that I would have access to the latest almost realtime postings at Harvard Business School or the local podunk town newspaper without it. I may not be able to remember my own phone number, but isn’t that why I have your number programmed?

All these resources, and you can’t make a password and click a stupid button?! Ignorance or laziness?

cobollives says:

Another Analogy

I have read enough comments to put this issue in perspective. To me, if I left a nice watch in my yard and someone came into it and stole it, that would be theft. But what if I went to the beach and carelessly dropped the watch on the sand and somehow it got buried. Later that afternoon an old fellow comes along with his metal detector and finds a treasure, a nice watch. As far as I know, he can keep it, especially if he does not know to whom it belongs. In my opinion, it is my responsibility to secure my possessions and accept the consequences for failure to do so. If the old fellow wants to find the owner of the watch, as it is his option to do so.

I believe that once the unidentified signal passes the boundary of the property line, it becomes public. Obviously the owner of the signal cannot build a fence to keep the signal within the boundaries of his property. Nevertheless, once the unidentified signal passes over his property line it enters the public domain and therefore by default anyone can claim it. If in public I am talking on my cell phone with speaker on sitting on a park bench and someone standing nearby picks up on the conversation can that person be charged with eavesdropping? No, because the conversation occurred in public. It is my responsibly to find a private place to make the call or at least turn off the speaker.

The problem is that laws need to be updated to keep up with changing technology. In this instance, if the unidentified signal crosses a property line, then that signal enters the public domain and it is the owner’s responsibility for securing it when in public space.

Alcot says:

I never had to lie about who I am or whether I knew you, and shame on you for suggesting as much. And, stupid you if you don’t like how your roommate handles things. You’re the one who decided to live with the guy without even bothering to find out anything about him.
When I am using netgear router then hack my Wi-Fi IP and password.
I also try on the [Netgear Arlo Support Number](https://www.netgearroutersupportnumber.com/netgear-arlo-support) but not getting any information regarding with security of my Wi-Fi network.

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