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» Enterprise IT Planet » Security » Security Features

AntiOnline Spotlight: Florida Wi-Fi Arrest

By Enterprise IT Planet Staff
July 8, 2005

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If you're ever in Tampa Bay, remember that using someone's unprotected wireless network without permission may land you in trouble with the police. One moocher learned that lesson the hard way.

stock photography
Visiting Tampa Bay? Make sure you have permission to access a wireless network before you crack open that laptop on its sunny streets.
Sure, it may be tempting to blame the homeowner for not adequately protecting his network, but the lesson here is that an open network doesn’t always translate into an open invitation. And now, law enforcement is getting wise to the issue.

The arrest was among the first for this kind of "theft", and as such, it has garnered more than its share of media attention. This can actually spell good news if wireless users catch wind and decide to take a few moments to lock down their APs.

In the Tampa Bay case, the Wi-Fi bandit was more than a little conspicuous, raising the suspicions of an alert resident. Unfortunately, most intrusions go undetected. The reasons are many, but by and large, most trespassers know how to blend into the background or they simply fall within the broadcast range of an AP, which can sometimes encompass an area large enough to fit a few homes.

What do the experts have to say about this latest incident at the intersection of network security and the law? Are more arrests to follow?

Note: Any opinions expressed below are solely those of the individual posters on the AntiOnline forums.

This Week's Spotlight Thread:
Use of open networks in FL can cause an arrest.

spamdies wonders if the network owner in this case shouldn't shoulder some of the blame:

[Click here to read this post.]

Negative lays down the law.

The article isn't clear on what exactly the guy did with the network, but here are some considerations:

Technically, it is not illegal to connect to someone else's Wi-Fi, as long as there is no protection on that network. In technical terms, it is not illegal to "intercept or access an electronic communication made through an electronic communication system that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public".

An unprotected Wi-Fi network is exactly that: an electronic communication system, readily accessible to the general public. If the network is protected, the law doesn't apply anymore: breaking someone's WEP and connecting to the network is illegal.

The same law (the ECPA) also mentions "intentional interception" for this act to be illegal, and the "intentional" part is important: if you're sitting outside someone's house for hours using his network, it's pretty obvious that it's intentional. Consequence: it's illegal.

So, summarized:

- Open network, and you connect to it unintentionally: nothing illegal about that
- Open network, and you connect to it intentionally: illegal
- Secured network, and you connect to it unintentionally: illegal
- Secured network, and you connect to it intentionally: very illegal

What this guy was doing falls into that second category: illegal...

mohaughn doesn't quite agree.

How many people here think it is perfectly legal to walk into a public place of business, and hook their laptop into the rj45 connection sitting behind the water cooler? It may not get you arrested, but as soon as somebody in that office sees you sitting on the floor with your laptop hooked up to the wall they are going to ask you what you are doing. Same thing applies. There is no sign that specifically says you don't have the right to use this, but there is nothing that would give you the impression that you have the right to use it. In some cases, you probably would get arrested.

People want to make a distinction just because this is transmitted through the air, and that distinction just doesn't exist. A network device is a network device; if you are not authorized to use it, using it is illegal.

I don't know if I totally agree with Negative analysis of the issue, as ignorance does not excuse anybody from the law. The prosecutors may not choose to prosecute you if they think you meant to connect to another machine, but the act itself it still technically illegal.

What's your take? Discuss it here.

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