In what is probably a landmark case, because it is the first of its type in the UK, a West London man was fined £500 for hijacking a wireless broadband connection. More details over at news.bbc.co.uk.
There is an offence in the Computer Misuse Act of gaining unauthorised access to a computer, but it seems the person was prosecuted under the Communications Act and found guilty of dishonestly obtaining an electronic communications service. It would appear that no wireless security was broken, i.e. no encryption was running on the wireless network. Anyone who has used a Wi-Fi device will have seen signals from other networks appear, particularly in built up areas, it seems now that if you are looking for a wireless network you do have permission to use, e.g. a commercial hotspot, you need to be sure you do not accidentally connect to the wrong network.
This case also raises the problem that most wireless network hardware is supplied with no security enabled at all, and many users do not understand how to enable it. In our reviews of ADSL hardware we try to cover the wireless security options in hardware, but manufacturers could go a lot further it making it easier for people to have a secure network. We would like to see more kit shipped with at least the minimum level of WEP encryption enabled.
There are two main types of wireless security you can employ, WPA which is the newest and most secure assuming you use a good password. WEP has two modes, of which 128bit mode is preferable, but even the 64bit version will keep the casual passerby out of your system.
The future for those that want to run public-access Wi-Fi networks? Well it may mean having to advertise that people have permission to use the network for free.
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