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connecting to unsecured wireless: is it hijacking?

By Ned Rhinelander (CNET) ·
I came in today to my job at CNet Network's Cambridge office, and had to wait in the lobby for a fire alarm to clear.

I pulled out my laptop and decided to see if there were any available networks...turns out there were 10, 3 or 4 of which were not secured. So, I proceded to IM with my colleage Steven upstairs. Before long Steven asked me "so you don't have any qualms about hijacking a wireless connection?"

When I setup a wireless access point, I consciously assume that if I set it to broadcast the SSID and disable security it's tantamount to offering a public service.

However, Steven's question threw me for a loop, because I think he has a point as one gave me permission to connect to the access point. Just because my computer connects automatically doesn't necessarily make it right.

Any thoughts out there on the legalities or general ettiquitte of this?

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Maybe, Maybe Not

by Cactus Pete In reply to connecting to unsecured w ...

You were in the lobby... There is a fairly reasonable expectation that any hotspot you found was meant for visiting vendors and clients to use, and it was unlocked fro a reason.

However, you probably could have been able to tell that from the SSID.

You're an adult - you should be able to tell if you're hijacking or not.

Of course, if you're not sure, then you probably are.

And if you really wanted to be a good citizen, you'd let the owner of the device know what's happening - they may have missed one while setting up the wireless network. Something like that isn't just the right thing to do - it's also a great networking tool.

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by jdmercha In reply to Maybe, Maybe Not

I agree.

I'm no attorney but I think from a legal standpoint (in the US at least) the frequency spectrum used by wireless networks is an unlicensed public spectrum. Meaniing anyone can broadcast or receive signals on that spectrum as long as such activities do not interfere with other devices nearby. Devices using that spectrum are limited to a maximum signal strength.

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Is it really a delemma?

by dmouzakis In reply to Maybe, Maybe Not

What if you found an RJ45 plug near your seat in the lobby? What if a patch cord was attached to it? What I want to say is that applying technology is also about responsibility. Everyone who sets up a wireless network must deal with security. For the same reason that you would never install an RJ45 plug outside your company?s building. Let?s face it. We are not living in an ideal world. The moral dilemma in our times is not about using the resources, but about the use of them.

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Not a valid analogy

by kobrak In reply to Is it really a delemma?

No one would assume that an RJ45 connection is set up for all to use freely. However, wireless hotspots have been routinely set up for public use.

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Maybe it is a valid analogy

by geoffnathan In reply to Not a valid analogy

Actually, at many universities there are open RJ-45 jacks in public places (libraries, coffee shops run by the campus) and we do indeed invite students and faculty to sit down and plug in. But, on the other hand, we normally require authentication with Bluesocket.

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by Christopher.Seward In reply to Maybe it is a valid analo ...

I thnk there is a difference between what to expect at a university over what to expect in a hotel lobby, but I see the point that there may be places where to mentality of thinking it's OK to just plug in. Point taken.

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Use don't abuse

by rwcarlse In reply to Difference

I say use the hotspot if it's a "hotspot" or not. It's not your fault someone left it wide open for public access. With the way people set up networks nowadays you never know if they meant to leave it that way or not. I also think it depends on location. If your in a goverment building and there is an unsecureed AP it's my guess you should tell them about it (then I hope that wouldn't be the case). However, if you're in a hotel lobby there's a good chance it's supposed to be for public access. Now if you're using the network with Cain and Able that's when you've crossed the line...Use the public access for what it is...but don't abuse the privelege. That's what screws the rest of us.

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that's a no-no

by Brazen1 In reply to Use don't abuse

So I'm thinking: If you walk past a car and notice the owner left the keys in it, do you automatically assume they left it for public use? Likewise if someone leaves the door to their house unlocked when they are not there, does that mean you are free to go on in and roam around?

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Couple of issues

by Cactus Pete In reply to Use don't abuse

Most of the rest of thesee posts below correct you before you made the statement, but I suppose you haven't read that far. What I take issue [in addition] with is:

"It's not your fault someone left it wide open for public access."

It's not my fault you have no fence around your front yard, think I'll dig for worms...

Those worms must be there for public access.

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Damage / Theft

by rojackson In reply to Use don't abuse

The analogies don't hold. Stealing a car means you take someone's property and that they cannot use it. Digging for worms means you cause damage to someone's lawn. The gentleman did no damage, didn't crash the network, didn't look for servers, maybe used a few K of bandwidth for IM in a public area.

We live in a society where hotspots and ubiquitous access are coming and here in many places. Caveat Installer!

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