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Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

Illinois WiFi piggybacker busted

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Ars Technica‘s Eric Bangeman posted a pointer and commentary about a case in Illinois where a WiFi piggybacker got caught and fined. This is apparently the third conviction in the US (two in Florida and this one) in the last 9 months.  The Rockford Register reports:

In a prepared statement, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli said, “With the increasing use of wireless computer equipment, the people of Winnebago County need to know that their computer systems are at risk. They need to use encryption or what are known as firewalls to protect their data, much the same way locks protect their homes.”

Firewall?  I guess they didn’t prepare the statement enough, but the intent is clear.  Still, it seems that the focus is on the consumer’s responsibility to lock down their network, ignoring the fact that the equipment that’s churned out by manufacturers is far too difficult to secure in the best of circumstances, let alone when you have legacy gear that won’t support WPA.  Eric seems to agree:

Personally, I keep my home network locked down, and with consumer-grade WAPs so easy to administer, there’s really no excuse for leaving them running with the default (open) settings.

“Easy” is very relative. It’s “easy” for guys like us, and probably a lot of the Ars audience, but try standing in the networking hardware aisle at Best Buy for about 15 minutes and listen to the questions most customers ask.  As I’ve touched on before, expecting them to secure their setups is just asking for trouble.

Comments

Posted by cow
on Saturday, April 22, 2006 at 06:43 AM

I guess it may be a strict local law. But unless the acess point is secure the department of HS says it is ok to access. There is a movement of people leaving open there wifi on purpose to expand the coverage of wifi. Only if he bypassed security did he do anythig illegal.
By deefault most laptops will try to connect to any wifi in range.. if unsecure and open.. and i supposed to get permission from people whom i dont even know my laptop is connecting to? can i get in trouble for something my laptop did by design?
I bet he can fight this and get off.. IF a guy walks in your open front door he isnt trespassing until you ask him to leave and he doesnt.

Posted by Ed Finkler
on Monday, April 24, 2006 at 03:20 AM

“I guess it may be a strict local law.”

State law, actually.

“Only if he bypassed security did he do anythig illegal.”

Actually, no.  As the article states very clearly, he broke the law by accessing it.  Feeling that the law is wrong on some level doesn’t change the fact that is *is* illegal in some states.

“By deefault most laptops will try to connect to any wifi in range.. if unsecure and open..”

Not under OS X or XP SP2, actually.  Both warn you if you try to connect to an unsecured network.

“and i supposed to get permission from people whom i dont even know my laptop is connecting to? can i get in trouble for something my laptop did by design?”

Hard to say.  This certainly wasn’t the case in this situation, though.  The man was knowingly connecting to a wireless network he didn’t have permission to use.

“I bet he can fight this and get off..”

If you read the article, you’ll see that he pled guilty and paid a $250 fine.

“IF a guy walks in your open front door he isnt trespassing until you ask him to leave and he doesnt.”

While trespassing laws vary from state to state, I think you’ll be in for a surprise if you test your theory.  Do some more research (a good start would be http://www.answers.com/topic/burglary ) before you go walking into homes of people you don’t know.

In addition, we have to be careful about using analogies from the physical world when dealing with computers, as the way the technology works often makes the analogies suspect at best.

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