According to The Register, a British court sentenced
24-year-old Gregory Straszkiewicz to 12 months conditional discharge and a £500
fine for "dishonestly obtaining a communications service and related
offences." Straszkiewicz accessed the wireless broadband connections ofmultiple residents with the intention of obtaining stealing bandwidth.
Because authorities provided "no evidence he
[Straszkiewicz] had any hostile motive beyond" a free Internet connection,
John Leyden, the article's author, categorized Straszkiewicz's sentence as
"harsh". A point with which I respectfully disagree. Leyden used the
term "borrow" to describe Straszkiewicz's actions. As Straszkiewicz
had no intention of repaying victims for their bandwidth, I contend thatStraszkiewicz stole, not borrowed, the bandwidth.
"It's unclear whether anyone who accidentally jumped
onto another party's net connection (easy to do if a host is using an unsecured
connection with no encryption) might also risk prosecution," Leyden wrote
in closing. Here Leyden appears to liken Straszkiewicz's
premeditated theft to the inadvertent intrusion on an unsecured wireless
network. Despite any technical similarity these two actions have, they are
diametric opposites with respect to motivation and outcome. Straszkiewicz
purposely and repeatedly used someone else's paid Internet connection withoutpermission.
Consider an individual I'll call John. John works in a large
office building that houses several businesses. On day the company's copier malfunctions.
Needing to copy several documents, John asks his boss for instructions. John's
boss arranges for John to make copies at ABC corporation, another business in
the building. John leaves to make the copies. Unfortunately, John mistakenly
enters the office's of BAC company. The BAC's office door is open and the reception
area is empty. John, who believes this to be the right office, walks beyond the
reception area to the copier. While making his copies, John is confronted by a
employee and asked to explain his presence and copier use. Realizing his
mistake, John apologizes and explains the situation. Later, John's company reimburses
BAC for the cost of the copies. BAC company understands John's mistake, acceptshis apology, and agrees to the reimbursement.
Now consider Jane, who also works in the same office
building. Each day during lunch, when most offices are empty, she leaves her workplace
and secretly enters BAC company. Without permission she copies dozens of
documents. Jane's actions are recorded by BAC surveillance cameras. When BAC
employees confront her with the evidence, Jane acknowledges her actions butrefuses to reimburse BAC company.
Both John and Jane entered BAC company offices without
permission. They each made unauthorized copies. But the similarities end there.
John made an honest mistake and offered a suitable reparation. Jane knowingly
and repeatedly used BAC's copier without permission and refused to makerepayment. Jane is guilty of both trespass and theft.
These two scenarios illustrate the difference between
someone who accidentally wonders onto and then off of an unsecured wireless
network and someone who purposefully and repeatedly seeks out and uses unsecuredwireless networks without permission.
While current statutory and case law on Wi-Fi access leaves
many questions unanswered, there are guidelines that business and consumers can
follow. Check out this News.com article onTechRepublic for more information.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. He was most recently Managing Editor for TechRepublic Pro. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.