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Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail

Via Huffington Post, a man in Tampa who parked outside a house and mooched off the homeowner's wi-fi network has been arrested and charged.

Sounds, ridiculous, right? The police say no, and they have a point.

The technology has made life easier for high-tech criminals because it provides near anonymity. Each online connection generates an Internet Protocol Address, a unique set of numbers that can be traced back to a house or business. That's still the case with Wi-Fi but if a criminal taps into a network, his actions would lead to the owner of that network. By the time authorities show up to investigate, the hacker would be gone.

"Anything they do traces back to your house and chances are we're going to knock on your door," Breeden said.

So if the perp outside is logging on to child p0rn and downloading it, you'll be getting a visit from the feds. How will you convince them it wasn't you? Maybe by letting them search your hard drive to show no p0rn on it. Seems too steep a price, if you ask me.

Make sure your wi-fi is secure. It's more than your finances that need protecting. Your privacy and liberty rights may also be at stake.

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  • Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    Why the strange spelling of "p*rn" (i.e., p0rn)?

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    to keep the censor software used by businesses and law firms at bay

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#3)
    by Quaker in a Basement on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    Should be an interesting trial, if the case moves to trial. Suppose a homeowner sets up a computer on his front lawn and leaves it unattended? Would it be theft for someone passing by to use it?

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#4)
    by chris on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    What can we do about ISP's that don't understand the problem? I have Verizon DSL, and they don't support WPA encryption, only WEP (which, as the article says, can be hacked by a competent websurfer with cash.)

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#5)
    by ras on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    I would think that the bigger concern is malware of various sorts - spyware, for example. There can be stuff on your hard drive that you really don't want there. Not just p_rn, but other folks' confidential info and more. Plus the fact that your computer could be used as a zombie to attack other computers. It's gonna get tougher for law enforcement to sort out intent. I doubt they'll be able to do so based solely on computer data. It'll require real-world corroboration. Remember, most home computers have at least some spyware on them at one time or another, doing who-knows-what. And I suspect the bulk of the unwanted pgms are likely slipped in via Internet Explorer. Don't use IE, people. Just don't.

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#6)
    by Sailor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    ""It's no different if I went out and bought a Microsoft program and started sharing it with everyone in my apartment." Actually it's no different than sharing your cable TV with everyone in your apartment. Chris - look into making the excryption between the wifi basestation and slave, the ISP shouldn't control it.

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#7)
    by pigwiggle on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    “Suppose a homeowner sets up a computer on his front lawn and leaves it unattended?” Suppose I forgot to pull the keys from my ignition? You seem to be asking how easy it should be for the thief before it isn’t theft. “I have Verizon DSL, and they don't support WPA encryption, only WEP” It is your router and operating system that supports a given encryption, not your ISP. If they are renting you a router that doesn’t support WPA send it back and buy one that does. I imagine you are running windows; you will need XP with service pack 2. I think it is also likely that there are some good software packages for handling encrypted network connections. When traveling I’ve piggybacked on unsecured networks. I’ve run across dozens of routers with the ‘out of the box’ SSID (usually Linksys), user ID, and password. If you are one of these folks don’t be too surprised when your network is renamed to something less than complimentary. All that spam you get, all the extortion motivated DDOS attacks on internet based companies, they come from one place; insecure, compromised computers. If you don’t understand how to secure your computer you may be harming more than just yourself. And keep in mind that securing a broadcast signal is much harder than securing a network cable.

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    Chris... Unless Verizon supplied the wireless hardware, WPA is supported and configured at your wireless router/access point so it's not an issue of your ISP not supporting it. Your wireless NIC as well as OS also has to be WPA capable for it to work. If all you have is WEP then you need to either upgrade to hardware that supports WPA or look into using RADIUS. An excellent and free 3 user setup is available at www.lucidlink.com. Though it requires an extra PC to act as a server it does a fine job of protecting you if all you have is WEP.

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#9)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    FBI v. Starbucks? How are they planning on keeping the genie in the can, once the cork is off? FBI versus rightwing racist terrorists is a LOT more important than pioneering more ways to Gonzales the Constitution.

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#10)
    by Quaker in a Basement on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    You seem to be asking how easy it should be for the thief before it isn’t theft.
    Indeed I am. But that's not the only thing I'm asking. I'm also asking: What, exactly, was "stolen" and from whom?

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#11)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    to keep the censor software used by businesses and law firms at bay
    Given the pathetic typing skills of today's youth, I'd be very surprised if censorware didn't flag every possible permutation of the word...
    Make sure your wi-fi is secure.
    It's quite easy to break someone's WiFi encryption. The only reason to use encryption is to make the leecher go elsewhere. (A few seconds is less of a hassle than a few minutes, think of the club used in cars...)

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#12)
    by ras on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    Quaker, I'm also asking: What, exactly, was "stolen" and from whom? I guess if you're being charged based on your bandwidth usage, then you've had something stolen. But more importantly, your reputation is "stolen," in that the person leeching your bandwidth is, in effect, doing things in your name, and without your permission. Thus, if they steal your bandwidth to mail out kiddie parn, or to send instructions to a hired killer, they are implicitly telling the world that it's you doing it, same as if they sent out such things on stationery they made themselves, with your name on it.

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#13)
    by Quaker in a Basement on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:52 PM EST
    ras, I think I mostly agree with your analysis of what's stolen. As I said before, that should make for an interesting trial. I'd like to see the law that makes "theft of reputation" illegal. Just to be clear, I'm not arguing that what the WiFi-jacker did was right. I'm just saying that this is a situation where new technologies have apparently outrun the law.

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#14)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:52 PM EST
    i bought an used notebook with wi-fi. used it a few times at coffee shops. was sitting in my yard one nite writing, noticed the little green button flashing indicating connection. i used it a little out of curiosity, catching up with blog news, talkleft included. found out it came from frat house half a block away. this makes me a criminal. this might make me an associate of crime if the frats downloaded kiddysmut. goobadi goobadi so if someone took $1000 in one dollar bills and stored them in the middle of the street, in plain site, just setting there, for the past week, and i took them....

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#15)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:52 PM EST
    TL's point about child porn is good one. In Arizona, A few clicks of the mouse can send you to prison for hundreds of years (13 to 27 mandatory per image found on the hard drive to be served consecutively). Who the hell wants to deal with that kind of hassle, even if you can show that nothing's on your hard drive?

    Re: Steal Wi-Fi, Go to Jail (none / 0) (#16)
    by Sailor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:00:52 PM EST
    Skeptical_Optimist, after a tiny bit of research, Verizon puts hotspots in cities for their customers; therefore they are the base station and can control the encryption methods. This may not apply to 'Chris.' The french capt said "It's quite easy to break someone's WiFi encryption." Not necessarily true, it depends on the encrypt method and strength of your password. It's easy to acertain whether someone 'piggybacked' you as opposed to 'cracked' you. The fbi should easily be able to tell whether you were the one who D/Ld the kiddie porn, or a squatter if he piggybacked you. (But who wants to talk to them anyway;-) If you've been cracked, the guy is in your computer and you have worse problems than just giving someone a free ride. Et al, as mentioned earlier, DO NOT use Internet Explorer, except for WIndows Updates, (and that is arguable on so many points;-) IE always leaves huge holes directly into your Windows OS, so most security consultants not employed by MS recommend not using it. There are several faster, more secure and free browsers out there.