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Two people arrested over wi-fi use
Wednesday 18 April 2007 11:38:44 by Andrew Ferguson

Unsecured wireless networks are all over the UK, but using them without permission can see you being charged with 'dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment'.

Two people in Redditch have been cautioned over using people's wi-fi connections without permission. In one case the person was arrested after neighbours reported a man inside his car using a laptop. It was early morning and he had put cardboard up at the car windows.

What many people do not realise is that their wireless network is very likely to be accessible and unprotected, which can mean people could borrow their broadband connection. If they used that connection to hack another site or to perform some other illegal activity, the onus would be on you to prove it was not you doing it. Imagine the scenario of someone accessing child pornography sites and the police then tracing it back to your address. They would seize all computer hardware and arrest you; the process of showing you had not visited those sites would be a long forensic search of all your computer hardware.

So what should you do to secure your wireless network? Firstly, you must enable encryption- the preferred methods are WPA2 and WPA, but remember when generating the key to NOT use a phrase that can be easily guessed, such as family names, addresses etc. WEP encryption which comes in two types 128bit and 64bit does offer some protection from the casual passer-by, but tools are available to let people break this in a relatively short space of time. Of course, the best protection if going away for a long time is to turn off the wireless router completely. Wikipedia provides a longer article on wireless security and people are free to ask questions about this on our forums.

A final thought for all those road warriors out there. If parked in your car using your 3G datacard and Streetmap or Google maps to find where you are heading, how suspicious do you look? Would the police believe you were using your 3G card as opposed to an unsecured wi-fi network that you did not even know was in the area?


Posted by nahwiseup over 10 years ago
A final thought for all those road warriors out there.

You'll look less suspicious than the folk arrested - they had cardboard to block the car windows!
Posted by Scubaholic over 10 years ago
It is a sad fact that for many people it is easier to do nothing. The BBC said in their piece on this that the BT Home hub 2 now must have a password input during setup but the majority of routers don't follow this pattern. For me I turned off WiFi as I didn't need it & set a password on my brother's router as soon as he got it.
Posted by wifigeek over 10 years ago
the fact of the matter is, there are plenty of non-commercial hotspots left wide open for others to use in the uk and how is the end user in the car supposed to know if its a public hotspot or if its not?

besides, just because they are in a car on a laptop hooked to a wifi point does not mean its unauthorised. unless the govt is taking the your breaking the law unless you can prove otherwise route - not good.
Posted by meldrew over 10 years ago
According to a young relative, using unsecured wifi is perfectly normal practice nowadays for city flat dwellers. It saves then the trouble of a 12 month contract with an ISP as well as being kind to the wallet.
Posted by UKSMS over 10 years ago
tbh if you configure your network for "open Access" you ask for everything you get. Your effectivly making your network public and calling people who log into it criminal is no different than the police going after listners of pirate radio stations.

The one at fault is the person running the open network its their broadcast and they have chosen to require no password and broadcast it ignorance or not. Ignorance is no excuse from the law and it shouldent be an escuse when your connection is used for illegal uses because you cantbe botheres to secure it.
Posted by herdwick over 10 years ago
many people don't configure their wireless network, a box arrives from the ISP and they use it. Quite a few now are set up securely on despatch, but some are not. User education and suppliers using security in the default config (with the key printed on the box or a label on the bottom of the router) are the way ahead.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 10 years ago
I'm surprised these guys accepted the cautions. I can only guess they were doing something a lot worse and this was their 'easy' option. If they had cardboard in their windows then I can only presume their intentions were not friendly.

People should be responsible for their own networks and protecting them to ensure they aren't openly abused. We should be educating them how to do so, as at the moment this isn't clear.
Posted by wifigeek over 10 years ago
totally agree with what you guys have all said, if the network is broadcasting an SSID saying "hey im here, you can connect to me i provide free public access" (which is pretty much what its doing given no encryption), then i think the law is wrong to prosecute.

i agree with seb in that if they were blacking out their windows they were up to something a lot worse. (and drawing more attention to themselves - most people wouldnt question someone in a car on a laptop).
Posted by CARPETBURN over 10 years ago
Their must be more to this story then just a few numptys stealing someones broadband. If a bank decided to throw money out of their building and people picked it up would they be done for theft? I imagine its more likely they were doing something illegal with the bandwidth which was floating in their direction and charging them with 'dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment', was the easiest thing to prove and get an arrest.
Posted by 141dp over 10 years ago
This is MENTAL! What is the £££ value of the 'theft'? Are Redditch police seriously so bored & parochial that they resort to something like this? Perhaps they thought it was withcraft
Posted by mike4ql over 10 years ago
I am astonished at some of the reactions here. If a bank throws money out of the window and you pick it up and keep it you are guilty of stealing. It doesn't matter that you don't know who owns it, you know that you do not so if you keep it you are stealing.
The same applies to using somebody else's broadband connection whether or not they have secured it.
Posted by alhanson over 10 years ago
Someone should challenge this nonsense - 'dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment' in this situation is akin to being cautioned for drinking from a public drinking fountain!
Posted by ma499 over 10 years ago
What about those of us with (genuinely) unlimited broadband who actually wish to use our space capacity available for public wifi? With traffic-shaping to give priority to my own traffic I don't mind doing this. However, I don't particularly want to be prosecuted for someone else downloading child porn or wot not.
Posted by darrenj71 over 10 years ago
I dont see how you could be charged for some using you ip address for illegal activity. The burden of proof must rest with the prosecution and if it can easily be shown your network was open how could it be tied to you.
Posted by brett7 over 9 years ago
The concept of 'innocent until proven guilty' is getting attacked here.

There are plenty of legitimate free-access networks out there. How is anybody meant to know that the open network is not intended to be open? Do we all stop using the free networks provided, say by local councils (which arent always explicitly labelled as public, even though they are) because we fear being prosecuted for accessing someones home network which is lazily not secured and also not explicitely labelled as private?

Don't you have to show intent to steal to prosecute someone for stealing?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
@mike4ql actually you are wrong... If a bank threw money out of a window onto a street and you picked it up and kept it you could not be prosecuted for "theft".. In a court of law to prove theft they must prove "the act of taking something from someone unlawfully" has taken place, picking something up (be it money or someones week old chewing gum)off the PUBLIC (ie not owned by anyone) street is not unlawful.
@brett7 yep you were pretty close to being right with the last paragraph. Where the law gets wifi stealers is because the bandwidth is not being "freely" given to them with "permission".
Posted by brett7 over 9 years ago
"Where the law gets wifi stealers is because the bandwidth is not being "freely" given to them with "permission"."

The law certainly can go ahead and deal with peopl euse bandwidth/networks where they knew they didnt have permission, but what about the people who don't know if they have been given permission or not? Currently there is no way to know an open network provider is not giving you permission. You can't tell people to assume they dont have permission, unless you are prepared to shut down all the public free-access networks (such as free city networks).
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
I agree with you brett7 its another case of the law being out of date with the modern times we live in.
Though to be fair the 2 involved in this case were obviously up to no good and screwing with someones connection so i say hang em by the balls lol
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