by Mike Masnick

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


    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Bret McDanel, 5 Jul 2005 @ 2:35am

    Re: Wardriving

    My mistake in one url, it is bugmenot.com for the firefox plugin (or web based form) to get access to many free sites without registering.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Andy, 5 Jul 2005 @ 8:28am


    Is just using an open wireless access point "wardriving"? Or are we calling it "wardriving" because the person was in a car (that is, "driving")? It used to be that "wardriving" was the act of actually mapping out where open wireless access points are, but not necessarily just using one that is available. I guess the term "wardriving" is more sensationalistic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 5 Jul 2005 @ 9:57am

    Re: Wardriving

    While the cop said that mere possession of a cantenna (and presumably every directional antenna for wifi) is illegal which is totally false.
    The courts have ruled that it's O.K. for cops to lie, so it isn't surprising that they do it so often.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Beakmyn, 6 Jul 2005 @ 9:17am

    Re: wardriving

    The guy is not a wardriver and he was not wardriving. He was using a computer network that he did not have permission to use. He is a criminal.

    Wardrivers do not connect to the Access points they find. You log them and that is all. If you do connect you are no longer a wardriver or hacker or whatever misplaced name the media wants to use, you are a criminal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Drew from Zhrodague, 12 Jul 2005 @ 7:26am

    Wardriving is fun!

    Wardriving is actually quite a bit of fun -- nobody is harmed, no computers are broken into, and no crimes are comitted! It's nice to see conscious thinking people specify as such. Rock-on, folks!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2005 @ 8:56am

    WiFi Hackers

    Although I think that you are right, that not all wardrivers and hackers have malicious intent - I think that people still need to be aware how easy it is to get into their network. If I don't want some stranger walking around my house - even if they tell me that they aren't going to steal anything. If I want to protect my house I am going to shut my door and lock it. I'm not saying that people shouldn't use wifi - but they need to use proper security if they want to reduce the possible risk involved. There's a demo at www.lucidlink.com on wifi hackers - and I think that it was an informative and interesting view on this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Bill, 25 Aug 2005 @ 11:36am

    Re: Wardriving

    "While the cop said that mere possession of a cantenna (and presumably every directional antenna for wifi) is illegal which is totally false."
    That article now has a correction to that effect:
    "A story on Page A1 on July 4, 2005, contained incorrect information. Sacramento County Sheriff's Lt. Bob Lozito of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force is quoted as saying "cantennas" are illegal to possess. The crude, homemade antennas used to amplify wireless signals are legal, according to deputy Attorney General Robert Morgester. However, if a cantenna is used to access a wireless network without permission, it becomes an instrument of the crime and is subject to seizure."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Jim, 13 Oct 2006 @ 5:02pm


    It's an atrocity. Like in court, the lawyer can say something against a defendant, the judge then says that the jury should disregard the comment, but once planted in the brain, it's still going to be a point of consideration during deliberations. My point, the police lie, it's not a crime to possess a cantenna, the correction is made in a little blurp 1, 2, 3 days, even a week later, but people still remember the point that stood out in the large column they read...and probably NEVER even read the little blurp that followed days later. I think that if they're going to correct a story, they should repeat the whole story, and insert where it was corrected within the story. This makes the cop look like a moron, and would be much more reluctant to tell lies, and the media about spreading it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    ralph, 5 Mar 2009 @ 11:15am


    I think WARDRIVING IS COOL!! I would like to start up an internet service that rails against the system and give out free and or low cost WIFI to everybody!!!! YOU CALL IT ILLEGAL?? SCREW THAT!! HOOK UP FOR FREE OR FOR CHEAP AND GET ON WITH YOUR BAD SELVES is what I say!!! THERES NOTHING ILLEGAL ABOUT ANY GOOD THING...HOTELS and Coffee Houses do it all the time and so does MCdonalds hamburger for crying out loud..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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