Tarry for the Nonce

July 7, 2005

Not-So-Free Internet Access

Filed under: News — lmwalker @ 2:38 pm

A caution to the wardrivers I know:

Police have arrested a man for using someone else’s wireless Internet network in one of the first criminal cases involving this fairly common practice.

Benjamin Smith III, 41, faces a pretrial hearing this month following his April arrest on charges of unauthorized access to a computer network, a third-degree felony.

Police say Smith admitted using the Wi-Fi signal from the home of Richard Dinon, who had noticed Smith sitting in an SUV outside Dinon’s house using a laptop computer.



  1. That’s ridiculous. The guy who owns the network should be responsible for securing it. Gee, I’m smart enough to add this Hasbro router to my network, but not smart enough to encrypt it. Hell, if he wants, most routers let you set the MAC addresses, limiting the computers that can access the network as well, giving a slightly better form of security than NONE.

    Security experts say people can prevent such access by turning on encryption or requiring passwords, but few bother or are unsure how to do so.

    DUH! Ignorance is no defense, right?

    Comment by Andrew P. — July 7, 2005 @ 3:35 pm

  2. Ignorance is no defense, right?

    It is if you’re the victim. Are you saying it’s ok if someone gets burgled because they didn’t lock their house enough?

    Comment by Mark — July 7, 2005 @ 4:36 pm

  3. I regard this as a victimless crime that police should not waste their resources pursuing. The analogy to burglary is a stretch; what was stolen? An open access point is just that: open. It extends outside of the home, and, might as well be interpreted as an open invitation to use the network.

    Comment by Troy — July 8, 2005 @ 8:57 am

  4. You’re right that this isn’t a big enough deal to pursue but the guy was stealing. It was a resource that gets degraded as more people use it (there’s some economic term for that). The owner had this device on his property and was paying for the service from the outside with no intention of sharing that resource with anyone outside. It’s like if someone started stealing his electricity, gas or water. Who’s to say that this guy in the car wasn’t downloading movie torrents and seriously degrading the service to the guy who paid for it?

    His bandwidth was stolen. Yes, he was probably just being a cock about it but you can’t make the case that just because he didn’t protect his property adequately, that it somehow becomes public property. If you do feel that way, I need some potting soil. Can I come dig up your lawn just because you don’t have a locked lid on it?

    Comment by Mark — July 8, 2005 @ 9:13 am

  5. Mark: I don’t agree that bandwidth is necessarily a rivalrous resource, particularly in the unlimited-bandwidth-for-a-fixed-fee situation that applies here (and the incremental cost of bandwidth is essentially zero). Moreover, as far as I am concerned, an open access point is literally an invitation to use the resource, i.e. please take some potting soil (or, more analogously: feel free to walk on my soil for a while). But, that is really a matter of where the law decides to go (akin to the duty-to-fence-out that exists in some western states).

    Comment by Troy — July 8, 2005 @ 2:17 pm

  6. You are right Mark. You could dig up my lawn. But I bet my fence would indicate that you should stay away.

    Same thing with encryption.

    Let me give you a better analogy…my grandmother lives on a corner in a neighborhood without sidewalks. She has never put up a fence. Kids walk across her lawn frequently to save time walking to school. If she had put up a fence, maybe she wouldn’t have complained about it to us for years; however, she did not. When the kids walk across her lawn, should the cops arrest the kids for trespassing?

    Just as a fence would have prevented her anxiety, so too would encryption prevent most intruders to the network. In a corporate environment, if the network is not secure, huge things can happen….like identity theft. Who’s liable? The guy who stole the information? I beg to differ. The corporation has a responsibility to protect data. An ignorant, adult home user should know better, or seek professional help.

    Yes, some of the onus falls on the the perpertrator, but a much larger onus should fall on the person who is responsible for securing the information, as the alleged crime would never have happened in the first place had the homeowner done due diligence and secured the network.

    Besides, the only entity that owns the air is the national government, and that only extends to a certain level above their borders (just as no entity can own space).

    I would think they should arrest the guy on loitering or causing a nuisance. That would be far more credible. The guy could have been a thief doing research on the homeowner’s movements, in anticipation of crime. At least that has more legal merit, IMHO of course.

    Comment by Andrew P. — July 11, 2005 @ 3:51 pm

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