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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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OK, OK, I agree with you on one point....

by UncleRob In reply to Of course!

....You shouldn't take advantage of stupid people, not because it's illegal because it isn't, stupid people get taken advantage of all the time (like the time I got married - HA! just kidding) but because it's not right.

But this changes this from being an issue of whether it's legal or not to whether it's the right thing to do.

Is this the right thing to do? - probably not. You are getting a free ride on that person's wireless network and if you're harmless and just surfing the net you're not doing anything worse than hogging up his network bandwidth without letting him know. The right thing to do would be to find the office broadcasting the signal and tell them to secure that network in a hurry before someone does something worse than surf the net on their dime. But I don't think it's illegal and the owner of the access point needs to take responsibility for administration of the equipment that he owns.

And if we're agreed (it's ok if you don't) that it's not illegal, than the question is ultimately one of ethics, is it right or wrong to do this?

But we humans tend to be a strange bunch, everyone has their own take on what's right & wrong but we're all built with a common instinct that instructs as to what is right or wrong for us. I guess that's why there so much conflict in the world, we can't agree on anything. Take a look at the length of this current discussion (don't get me wrong, I think it's amazing to get this much input from so many people on such an interesting topic), we probably have near equal amounts of people for & against the unauthorized use of this wireless signal, we're all tugging on the opposite end of this radio wave in question.

What's the moral in all of this: don't take advantage of stupid people (I could be one of them), try to do the right thing (everything isn't black & white and 256 shades of grey tend to confuse alot of people), secure your WLAN access points from unauthorized used and continue to take part in awesome techrepublic discussions such as these.

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Agreeing or not

by Cactus Pete In reply to OK, OK, I agree with you ...

Somewhere way down near the bottom I explained my position a little more: Here's a brief recap...

It IS illegal - but an extremely minor offense likely wouldn't even be noticed, let alone be worth trying to prosecute.

There would clearly be a line crossed if the unsecure AP were used for hosting a Child Pornography site - And the RIAA could probably have a case against hosting a music swapping server...

Someone else used the example of stealing $100 might be OK to you, but $1,000,000 wouldn't.

So someone took a penny from you, it's not worth even thinking about [to most people]. But the line where it DOES matter could vary from person to person. The fact that it isn't worth fighting about doesn't mean it isn't illegal - it just means you don't care. And that's OK.

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I Agree

by 280Turbo In reply to I'm glad someone finally ...

I agree, that if you don't secure your WLAN, you leave yourself wide open for others to use the signal. If you leave you car parked on the street, unlocked and keys in it, that doesn't mean you want someone to take your car, but if it gets stolen, good luck getting the insurance company to pay because you were dumb enough to leave it unsecured. If the car was locked and broken into, different story. I see signs in public places all the time telling people to "lock your valuables and don't leave them out where they can be seen" I feel that this is the same, if you don't want someone else using your stuff, LOCK IT DOWN ! Why do people use antivirus - so they don't get infected. Why use a firewall - to keep others out of your PC. The same rule applies to wireless networks - If you don't want someone else to touch it, Secure it. If you don't know how, go on the internet and do some research, hire someone to do it, or just deal with it. If I found out that someone was accessing my wireless network, I wouldn't try to have them prosecuted, I would lock it down and blame myself for not securing it in the first place. You can't always count on people to do the "right thing", so you have to protect yourself and property.

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No it's not.

by TechJock In reply to I think it is highjacking ...

As a hunter I can attest to the fact that it's unwise to hunt on someone's farm without their permission, but that involves potentially removing things from their property (game).

In fact, in every location I've ever hunted or leased land for hunting, if the land isn't posted, you can hunt there. On three seperate hunt leases, we were required to post No Hunting signs so that each sign was visible from it's neighbor.

Putting up a wireless network is really no different. You are using public airwaves, in an unlicensed spectral band, and if you don't post otherwise (ie No SSID Broadcast, MAC Filtering, WEP, etc) then you have opened it to the public, for public use.

If you ever want to claim that the network is/was private, you MUST make some effort to secure it. Even if it's as simple a method as turning off the SSID broadcast. It's my understanding (IANAL) that if you don't protect an asset with at least minimal means, they you cannot claim loss/trespass in a Court of Law. (YMMV)

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Ultimately, a question of conscience.

by billds In reply to No it's not.

If you are not using tools to circumvent security measures in order to gain access and given that anyone setting up an access point should know the consequences of broadcasting the SSID I feel that the responsibility lies with the person that set up the access point.

In the end if you want to be protected and there is no law to protect you then you must protect yourself.

From the perspective of the person 'intruding', if they aren't breaking any law then it has to come down to their own conscience.

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by scottvolkert In reply to No it's not.

If you don't ask to permission to hunt private lands in Wisconsin, you just violated the law. The lack of "signs" does not give you permission to enjoy the land I paid for.

And you better have it writing, in case you make the land owner mad and he denies permission!

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And it follows .....

by dbristol In reply to DONT HUNT IN WISCONSIN

You purchased the land, stocked it as a private preserve (fish or game?) and fail to put in the proper barrier to prevent the stock from leaving the property.

When the stock leaves your property, it's open season on a public asset - your loss!

Do it right the first time.

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How your example applies

by Cactus Pete In reply to And it follows .....

Your example is for reading what is broadcast.

That's it.

When you reply to it and use the service back through the owner's property, you have then violated the law.

That would be like shooting the dear [non-fatally] off of the property, then following it back onto the property to finish it off.

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In reality ....

by dbristol In reply to How your example applies

If you shot the deer on public property, and it returned to private property, Law Enforcement would provide access to finish the animal off. Cruelty to animals ya know.

Not so with an open wireless LAN. When the owner shuts it off, it's off. And should have been from the beginning.

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by Cactus Pete In reply to How your example applies

I said non-fatal. CVould have been a scratch. I doubt that qualifies. You see my point.

Besides, hunting laws aren't federal [mostly].

And we've put to rest the argument that just because it's there doesn't mean it's for you to use.

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