Top UK Cop Says Hackers Should Be Punished Not With Prison, But With Jammed WiFi Connections

from the yeah,-that'll-work dept

Here's a story that starts out well. One of the UK's top police officers, Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas, has said that putting people in prison for offenses like hacking into computers makes no sense. He points out that it costs around $50,000 a year to keep someone in a traditional prison, and that education programs are likely to be a far more cost-effective solution, especially in terms of reducing recidivism. This is absolutely right, and it's great to hear a senior officer admit it. Unfortunately, things go downhill from here. He told the Telegraph:

If you have got a 16-year-old who has hacked into your account and stolen your identity, this is a 21st century crime, so we ought to have a 21st century methodology to address it.

His solution is as follows:

He said convicted criminals could be fitted with electronic jammers around their wrists or ankles which blocked wifi signals and prevented them from going online.

Leaving aside the human rights implications, which to his credit Thomas acknowledges, there is another big problem with the proposal, as Techdirt readers have doubtless already spotted. The people wearing these WiFi jammers would be those who have been found guilty of some computer-related crime. By definition, then, they are likely to be tech-savvy. So they probably have other computers that can use Ethernet connections to access the Internet. In addition, they are unlikely to have any problems using Bluetooth or a USB cable to reverse-tether their mobiles to a system with wired access. The more adventurous might even try to rig up some kind of Faraday shielding to jam the jammer. In other words, this isn't going to work, but would probably cause havoc with everyone else's WiFi connections.

Back in 2015, Thomas was quoted by Computer Business Review on the topic of encryption, and the problems it posed for the police, when he said:

It is utterly essential for detectives and criminal investigators to use data held on smartphones and other devices when they are investigating serious crimes.

Given his belief that jamming bracelets would stop convicted computer criminals from using the Internet, the worry has to be that he shares the mistaken view that tech companies can create a safe system of crypto backdoors or "golden keys" that only the authorities can use. Let's hope he takes some expert advice before offering an opinion on that one.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+


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  • identicon
    Daydream, 12 Jan 2017 @ 3:34am

    If a hacker wore a jammer that stopped Wi-Fi from working around him...

    Then what would happen if he stood around in an internet cafe?

    And incidentally, what would stop him from just using cellular data on a smartphone to do his internet stuffz?
    (Jamming that would be outright illegal due to the potential necessity of needing to call emergency services if something happens.)

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 3:50am

      Re: If a hacker wore a jammer that stopped Wi-Fi from working around him...

      That was my first thought, after "well, he'd just use a wired connection, surely?". Depending on how it's implemented, a person could easily cause mischief around them and exploit that to commit further crime (while having a court mandated defence if caught "inadvertently" doing so).

      Kudos for actually recognising that jail isn't a solution to a lot of these problems, but if your idea can have numerous holes pointed out the moment it's mentioned to anyone remotely tech-savvy, it needs a lot more work.

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

    • identicon
      DeerSpotter, 12 Jan 2017 @ 6:48am

      Re: If a hacker wore a jammer that stopped Wi-Fi from working around him...

      Phones on airplane mode still dial 911

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 8:50am

      Re: If a hacker wore a jammer that stopped Wi-Fi from working around him...

      Jam all the cellular bands too.

      I see this being implemented just as self-driving cars hit the road, relying on wireless connections for cloud data and processing and to talk to traffic lights.

      Heck, the hackers will line up for this punishment so they can post the results to YouTube.

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

    • icon
      Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 3:11pm

      Jammers are completely illegal…

      …and cannot be legalised for domestic or police use at all.

      The only place the U.K. can use them is on a battlefield or
      the airspace above it. ‌ Thomas probably knows it already.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 3:51am

    The world is truly filled with idiots

    It would be a much better world and so refreshing to see fewer of them in law enforcement and politics.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 4:58am

      Re: The world is truly filled with idiots

      They are a product of the education branch within the "Starve the Beast" GOP strategy for making America Great Again.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 9:13am

        Re: Re: The world is truly filled with idiots

        Because their acts magically clean up when a democrat is in power too... oh wait... BLM formed under Obama cause... you know... those racist GOP assholes in power!

        This one is not a party issue, both parties have no trouble with using the police to fuck with those they don't like. They just do it in different ways.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 10:17am

        Re: Re: The world is truly filled with idiots

        Wait... what? Let me re-quote the beginning of the blog post:

        One of the UK's top police officers, Chief Superintendent Gavin Thomas

        Stop trying to shoehorn everything into US politics please. The US does NOT have a monopoly on stupidity.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 4:00am

    I'm happy

    I'm happy that someone in that position considers alternatives for prison. Whether the alternatives are good or bad is irrelevant. What's important is the discussion.

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

    • icon
      Alasdair Fox (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 4:33am

      Re: I'm happy

      It's only irrelevant until it becomes law..

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 10:19am

        Re: Re: I'm happy

        He's not a lawmaker; he's an enforcer. As such, he can open up the discussion, but has no power to create laws. Hopefully the long and tortuous route between him and laws, as it winds through the bureaucracy, will result in something saner.

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

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 12 Jan 2017 @ 4:08am

    "By definition, then, they are likely to be tech-savvy. So they probably have other computers that can use Ethernet connections to access the Internet."

    C'mon man don't bring me problems, bring solutions - just nerd harder.

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

    • icon
      Nate (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 5:02am

      Re:

      Everytime i read that i envision someone having intimate relations with their desktop PC.

      Forex: a keyboard makes for a handy paddle, USB cables could be used as whips or ropes, and the power strip - well, let's just stop there.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 5:19am

      Re:

      I'd love to expand my mind and nerd harder but LSD and magic mushrooms are illegal.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 10:21am

        Re: Re:

        It's only illegal to sell magic mushrooms. The government can't make their existence illegal without banning cow and sheep pastures.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 7:18am

      Re:

      NO!!! SSSHHHHHH!!!!
      Let them keep DNS blocking pirate sites and "jamming" the internet!
      We'll just be over here laughing at them and bypassing their efforts.

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

  • identicon
    al, 12 Jan 2017 @ 4:33am

    wifi jamming

    Another "get out of jail free" card they can play is that a wifi jammer is NOT a 3g/4g jammer. That's more "internetz" usage right there

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 4:46am

      Re: wifi jamming

      Let's go through the article again:

      "it costs around $50,000 a year to keep someone in a traditional prison".
      That's $50K/year for a maximum possible of 10 years (as per RIAA's wishes).

      Adding to that, prison will turn many hackers into hardened criminals (unless you jail them for life - MPAA's and many 3LA's wet dream).

      These people aren't your average dumb-ass who posts on Facebook during a theft either.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 4:59am

        Re: Re: wifi jamming

        But what about my private prison stock .. huh?
        grumble grumble

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 7:35am

        prison will turn many hackers into hardened criminals

        that's only half the problem. imprisoning hackers will turn some hardened criminals into hackers.

        you want more hackers, do you, maybe with more focussed intent?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 10:24am

        Re: Re: wifi jamming

        These people aren't your average dumb-ass who posts on Facebook during a theft either.

        You sure? These are the hackers who get caught. Not the good ones.

        But I can imagine another scenario: someone who gets one of these blockers installed wanders into strategic locations, and lets people know they can pay them to go away.

        After all, this is government-sanctioned RF jamming going on here. Nobody can get them arrested for complying with a court order.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 5:25am

    Oh if I had this jammer on I'd hang around in crowded public places all day. Make it a cellphone jammer as well for added fun!

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

    • identicon
      Andy, 12 Jan 2017 @ 9:54am

      Re:

      And get yourself banned from public spaces which has happened to many criminals in the UK. Also how can you get internet through cable if you are banned form having access to one or have it monitored or even have your smartphone taken from you and a series of alarm systems when you do use one of your friends.Maybe even give a little electric shock the first few times you are within 1 meter of a 3g or lte device.

      The idea is sound the implementation, a little more difficult but doable.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 10:45pm

        Re: Re:

        Such "alarm systems", such as a GPS ankle bracelet, can be jammed. All you need is a GPS jammer, and they will not know where you are.

        That is why I do not trust ankle bracelets any father than I could throw them. Jammers can be bought for about 30USD.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 12 Jan 2017 @ 5:44am

    And also...

    They would presumably jam any nearby wifi signals owned/used by innocent parties.

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

  • icon
    Nick (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 5:58am

    This is brilliant. Let's give internet trolls that have no problem disrupting public computer systems a free troll card to screw with wi-fi. I'm sure that can't go wrong.... "What, I can't visit my local hospital?"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 6:08am

    And wouldn't it require wi-fi to operate the ankle bracelet anyway?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 11:55pm

      Re:

      Nope, 3g/4g internet service, which can, itself, be jammed. All one needs is the right kind of cell phone jammer to keep the device from "phoning home", as it were.

      This would also allow the offender to go out and buy bolt cutters, cut the device off, and then put it into the trash compactor and destroy it.

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

  • identicon
    CHRoNo§§, 12 Jan 2017 @ 7:26am

    and then you have

    oh how does my internet wifi jammer work? OH now ill make a ton of these and have my buds really disrupt the world LOL

    ya i can se this going no where good ..ever but the lolz be incredibly funny when all ones has to use to get round it is a landline

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

  • identicon
    pcdec, 12 Jan 2017 @ 7:33am

    Putting anyone in prison for a nonviolent offence is just stupid. It would be much smarter and cheaper to use other means to punish them while giving them the ability to have a job and pay for their punishment themselves instead of making the innocent taxpayers pay for their crimes.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 8:09am

    He said convicted criminals could be fitted with electronic jammers around their wrists or ankles which blocked wifi signals and prevented them from going online.

    As well as anyone else around them.

    Seems like this guy could use a 21st century education to go with his 21st century thinking.

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

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 8:37am

    Good idea, Chief!

    Sure, give the hacker a way to mess with other people's network connections.

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

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 9:14am

    You people don't need hard enough. Of course there is no problem with his idea, considering the following two points:
    - the jammer would only jam bad guys wifi;
    - the jammer would also jam wired wifi.
    There you are, problems solved.

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

  • identicon
    PAUL KLARREICH, 12 Jan 2017 @ 10:40am

    I kinow where he got the idea:

    The billiard sharp whom any one catches,
    His doom’s extremely hard –
    He’s made to dwell –
    In a dungeon cell
    On a spot that’s always barred.
    And there he plays extravagant matches
    In fitless finger-stalls
    On a cloth untrue,
    With a twisted cue
    And elliptical billiard balls!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 11:15am

    All this talk of jam is making me hungry.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 11:46am

    Starting a pool: how many milliseconds would it take your average teenaged hacker to invent a Faraday Boot?

    I'll buy in for "3", "4", and "17"

    Second pool: how many milliseconds would it take your average juvenile delinquent's parent to find a crackpot lawyer willing to claim that wi-fi has deleterious effects on human tissue, and sue for cruel+unusual punishment?

    It would be so much easier just to pass a new law saying that photons will not vibrate in certain frequencies in the presence of convicted criminals. After all, we have the best lawyers in the world, and I can't believe they couldn't come up with suitable wording if they'd just lawyer harder.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 12:15pm

      Re:

      Either a Faraday boot, or just go down to your local hardware store, and buy a bolt cutter and cut the thing off your ankle, then smash it to pieces with a sledge hammer.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 1:37pm

      Re:

      Done.

      Get a large Faraday bag and stick your foot in it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2017 @ 12:39pm

    Another problem is that Wifi also shares frequency space with Ham radio, at least in the United States. If they ever try this in the USA, you can expect the ARRL to raise some hell about it. Hams do not take very kindly to their frequencies being jammed.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Jan 2017 @ 12:55pm

    rAISE FOOT

    Remove shoe..
    Open mouth..
    Insert FOOT...
    Wiggle toes..
    Start chewing..
    ENJOY...

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

  • icon
    Joseph (profile), 13 Jan 2017 @ 1:37am

    I agree that prison may not be the answer but whenever you attempt to block anything, someone clever will find a way around it, especially hackers. Rather than trying to block them, monitor them. And if they repeatedly violate the rules, then put them in jail. If it less evasive to others and has the same oversight.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2017 @ 3:44pm

      Re:

      the trouble with that is that monitoring software they put in your computer can be defeated by wiping out and reinstalling the operating system.

      And it can also be defeated with a firewall. You can prevent their monitoring software from "calling home", as it were, by blocking the right port and/or IP range in your firewall, and their monitoring will not work.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Howard II, 13 Jan 2017 @ 3:06am

    Is there anyone in a position of power on this shit-tastic island who knows the first thing about technology beyond what they saw on a crime drama last night?

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

  • identicon
    Kagzaz, 13 Jan 2017 @ 4:49am

    Jam the jammer

    Easy way to defeat a jammer is just wrap it in foil, aka a faraday cage.

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

  • identicon
    Jail Weev, 13 Jan 2017 @ 5:50pm

    Jail White supremacist Craig Cobb

    Jail Dr. David Duke

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


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