Lockup The Evil Wardriver!

from the hide-the-women-and-children!-lock-the-access-points! dept

We've written about various news articles, often in small local newspapers, writing ridiculous, fearful stories about wardrivers, suggesting that they can do all sorts of nefarious things. For some reason, it seems that plenty of people who don't understand wireless technology absolutely assume the worst about wardriving, when the details make that very hard to support. Remember the case where a guy was arrested for: (a) driving the wrong way down a one way street (b) driving without any pants on (c) using a laptop while driving (d) using that laptop to download child porn (e) which he accessed via a free WiFi connection -- and it was the use of the unsecured WiFi access point that got all the attention? There just seems to be something about people using an open WiFi network that sets people off in the wrong direction. The latest, as is being discussed at both Broadband Reports and WiFi Networking News, is a silly story about somebody getting arrested and charged with a felony just for surfing the internet from his car over someone's open WiFi network. The article goes on and on and on about the evils of wardriving, while briefly mentioning towards the end that it isn't always to do anything illegal or bad. Of course, it spends plenty of time talking about how people could war drive and do something illegal and never get caught -- never once noting the irony that the whole point of this article is because someone got caught. As we've pointed out before, the idea that using an open network is bad because criminals would never get caught is a total red herring, as plenty of more traditional means of detective work can still be used to track down the criminal. Just because something can make you anonymous, doesn't mean it automatically is illegal. Wouldn't the same argument be used againt any anonymizer sites? Also, as Glenn points out at WNN, some (though, not many) ISPs encourage users to open up their WiFi and let people use it -- so it's even entirely possible that this guy was doing something that was allowed. Whether or not he was doing anything else illegal is a different question -- but simply accessing the WiFi doesn't seem likely to have harmed anyone, but you wouldn't know that from reading the press coverage.

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  1. identicon
    Bret McDanel, 5 Jul 2005 @ 2:33am

    Wardriving

    Not all wardriving articles are about the fact that its inherently evil or 100% focusing on the wrong things. There are some that seem reasonably fair. Of course in all fairness I was mentioned in the article, so maybe I am somewhat biased. The Sacramento Bee (normally a FUD paper) did an article which made the front page July 4, 2005. Use dontbugme.com if you dont want to register, get the firefox plugin if you want to make it easier :)
    While the cop said that mere possession of a cantenna (and presumably every directional antenna for wifi) is illegal which is totally false. Ham radio has authority to use wifi frequencies, and they are encouraged to make their own, but you can buy a canister antenna if you dont want to build one, and you do *not* have to be a ham radio operator to legally possess an antenna.
    There were basically two views presented, law enforcement - that its 100% illegal, possession of equipment which *could* be used for it is illegal, and all that, and those of 3 different security experts. Josh and myself rely on the Virginia Journal of Law & Technology, look but dont touch.
    Stats (no ESSIDs) are available on my site 0xdecafbad.comfrom one night of driving to show that most people just pull it out of the box, plug it in and since it works, do nothing more. We have since collected many thousands of access points and the stats hold out (although business areas seem to be closer to 50% WEPed, the residential areas, which are worse than 66% average it out).

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