Wireless Piggybacking Is Still Not A Problem

from the victimless-crime dept

For years, we've been pointing out that there's nothing unethical about borrowing an open wireless connection. Unfortunately, the stories on this subject just keep getting more hysterical. The latest example is a story from the UK that dubs the offense "wi-fi tapping" and reports that more than half of computer users have engaged in the practice, which it claims is illegal in the UK. Now, you might think that the fact that a majority of otherwise law-abiding Brits have engaged in piggybacking would be a reason to re-consider the law against it, but instead the story takes the opposite tack, sternly lecturing readers about the need to abstain from borrowing Internet access. Unfortunately, they never get around to explaining what's supposed to be wrong with it. They point out that people sometimes do illegal things with a borrowed wi-fi connection, but that's like saying you should never allow anyone to borrow your car because they might run someone over with it. And they insist that it's not a victimless crime because "A crime is perpetrated against the person who pays for the internet connection." But that's just circular logic. It's quite possible the owner of the network left it open on purpose, and in any event, if the piggybacker is just checking his email or engaging in light web surfing, the bandwidth being consumed is trivial. The "victim" is unlikely to even notice, and he certainly doesn't suffer any serious harm. Of course, there might be legitimate reasons, either security- or bandwidth-related, why someone would want to lock down his or her network. It's certainly worthwhile to educate users about the pros and cons of leaving your network open, and to provide them with directions for locking down their network if they wish to do so. But the police have much more important things to do than harassing people whose only crime is a compulsive need to check their email.

Filed Under: freeloaders, open access, uk, wifi


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  1. identicon
    Jim, 13 Feb 2008 @ 9:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Flawed thinking

    "Wi-fi is NOT passive. You don't recieve without transmitting like light. When you request a web page over my Wifi, your computer transmits a signal to MY router in MY house. If all you want to do on my wifi is recieve the signals coming out of my house, you're welcome to, they won't do you any good. However, what you are actually doing is sending a signal remotely to my router and telling it to do something. That is, plain and simple, hijacking my equipment."

    Ah but you ARE sending signals to them to receive information.

    For the light-in-the-backyard analogy. This simply dosn't work. Because the person using the light DID NOT have to buy a remote to make the light turn to his yard. The person using the light simply left the light shining on your yard. The owner receiving the light didn't have to do anything to receive it. This works the SAME way with wireless networks. Many operating systems make it so simple to connect to wireless networks that if they are not secured properly you don't even have to try to connect to them. The computer will do it by itself if the connection is present. So I go to wal-mart. Buy a computer and put it in my house. This computer happens to have built in wireless capabilities. I turn my computer on and find that there is an internet connection present. I decide to use it. I made no special attempt to steal your internet. It was offered up to me, for all I know you did it on purpose. As a matter of fact your radio waves tresspassed onto my property. If you don't want me using it, then keep them in your walls, or make them unusable. It CAN be done.

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