Friday, May 9, 2014

You Could be Committing a Wireless Crime

Image: Wayda Dreamscape
When people go on-line they could be doing things illegal without even knowing it. For example, you go to a local Starbucks or McDonalds or any other big company store, they usually will have free unlocked Wifi. This Wifi is put there as a guest or client luxury and is not something that other people, who are not authorized to use it and take advantage of. When people are online, they are doing things that are illegal without even knowing it and even if they do know that it is illegal, they are almost sure that no one will catch them.

When you go on your phone or computer and need wifi, you almost always see an option that is unlocked and accessible. It turns out that this is stealing and an act of fraud. When you see an open unsecured wifi network, the person who owns that network is the one who is paying for the internet access. Most of the time they don’t intend for random people to use the network and take up more space on the network so they just leave it open. When they leave it open, it is basically telling random people to come and use it. If enough people begin to use the wifi, then the data that the wifi has to store information will fill up and the owner could lose their wifi, or find additional charges to the monthly bill. When people use others’ free wifi, they are committing a crime according to the computer Fraud Abuse Act of 1986. This act states that if someone logs on to free wifi without authorization from the owner, then they can be arrested or fined for up to four hundred dollars but it is rarely ever enforced because it’s very difficult to detect. However, in 1986 they didn’t have wifi and because of the emergence of it, this act needs to be updated since the technology is better. Since the technology is better, more people hack and use the wifi unauthorized now more than before in 1986 when the act came out.

When you are using free wifi and you have the authorization to do so, make sure you take all the right precautions so that no one steals your information. First of all don’t go on any personal accounts unless you really have to for wrk or some family issue or necessity. When you log into something a small signal is released throughout the network so if someone is hacking the computer, then they have direct access to your device. If you have to go on to a personal account, then make sure that you log out after you are done.

Also, make sure your wifi is locked and secure with a password. You don’t want to be the person who is getting piggybacked all the time because that could lead to wifi suspension or additional fees that you, as the owner, have to pay. Also when you leave the wifi open, it allows hackers to get into the wifi easily and access information about you and all who are logged on to the network. If your wifi is locked, then it would take a hacker with specialized equipment to get into your wifi.

On the other hand, people do this all the time and never get caught. There has only been one case of the Computer Fraud abuse act coming into affect since 1986, when it was created. I mean when you need wifi why would you want to pay for it or take the time to put in a code when you could use a perfectly free and accessible network with the click of a button. And its not like anyone will catch you and bring you in to the police, unless you are hacking which is a whole different story.

In conclusion, if you see an open network, don’t log onto it because in the rare case you do get caught, you don’t want to be the one to pay the fine. Also keep your wifi locked and secure with a password so that no one can get in without your consent. I you do this and follow all of the security protocols, then you and your wifi will be just fine.



Reflection:Updated 29 May, 2014

When I first took on this project I though it would be a drag. I had never thought it would be as fun as it actually was. Yes, there were some parts of this that challenged me. For instance I had never used Noodletools before. I also had never used Blogger. These two programs were great tools that I learned how to use because of this project and I will probably use them again in the future. Before this project I had never even thought about writing a blog mainly because I didn't see myself as a blogger, but now I realize that it's not so bad and I can do it to just like everyone else in the world. While I was doing my research I definitely learned things. I learned about a new law that will now prevent me from logging on to random networks. I also learned what to o and what not to do when on different networks to make sure that my accounts stay nice and safe. Even before all of this I had to choose my topic. Like I said before, I wasn't very interested in this, but the turning point occurred when I looked at some of the articles to choose the topic from. Every time I would click on an article they would get more and more interesting. I finally settled on the one about piggybacking because it is something that I have done and I am sure most people have done too. I also thought that more people should know if they are doing something illegal because I know I would want to know if I was.


  1. Thank you for your post, Neymar the Dragon. When I travel, I use free WiFi networks all the time but never realized it was illegal. I always assumed I could use these networks because there was no password needed. Is it even possible to enforce the Fraud Abuse act with so many people using free networks illegally? I agree with your advice about not logging onto personal accounts when using free networks. My mom has gotten her email hacked into because she used the free WiFi at a library. I think this is an important topic that we all should pay more attention to because this crime does impact and hurt people.

  2. Neymar, thanks for bringing up this topic! Like you, I read the Mashable article about 14 illegal things you're doing on the internet and realized I might be breaking the law in certain instances without knowing it. Yikes! I have some questions for you on this wifi issue. Do you have any statistics on how many people leave their wireless networks open and unsecured? I would hope more people know better nowadays, so is piggybacking more likely to happen in neighborhoods out of people's homes? Or in public spaces? Should places like Starbucks post signs with wifi passwords in their stores so it's not just completely free and open? In reading Andrew's comment above, I'm not sure he's done anything illegal (like using an open network in an airport when traveling--that network exists for the convenience of travelers), so how do you know when you are illegally piggybacking and when it's okay? Can you give some clear examples of when this is not okay? In the end, you provide good advice to keep your networks secure and be careful when using public wifi. Thank you.

    1. Hi Holly, thank you for reading this post! To answer some of your questions, I am not sure about the statistics of where piggybacking happens the most. Sorry! On the other hand I can answer some of your other questions. For instance, It is perfectly fine to use the Airport Wi-Fi because you are a customer so like you said Andrew did nothing wrong. Although you might want to be careful there because people could set up bogus networks in the airport or traveling station so that they can steal your information. Lets say you were to go to a restaurant and you went in and sat down to eat. If you do this then you are permitted to use their Wi-Fi. Now lets say your wife or someone else stays in the car. They are technically not a customer so they would not be allowed to use the Wi-Fi. Finally to answer your first question it says in an article I read written by USA today says that about 2/5th s of the wifi networks are unlocked and available for usage. Thanks again for the comment and for the great questions. Neymar the Dragon.

  3. This is very interesting, Neymar the Dragon, I never considered using an unlocked wifi account as breaking the law. I always use public wifi accounts, such as Starbucks's, and breaking the law never crossed my mind. My wifi is privet but you gave great suggestions to people have public wifi on how to protect them selves from hackers and random users looking for free wifi. Have you ever used a public wifi with out permission, if so did you know it was illegal at the time.

    On another note you have one grammatical error at the end of you second paragraph. you said "the make sure that you go" I think you were trying to say "they make sure that you go." Other than that small mistake your blog was excellently written and well researched.

    1. Hey Declan, I am so happy to see you comment on my blog. I am also pleased to hear that you learned something knew. In terms of your question, I have before and my data and accounts have been fine, but I had no idea that it was illegal. I thought this probably because it is open and why would someone leave something open and not want others to use it. I hope that answers your question. By the way thanks for the error catch. I'll be sure to fix that. Neymar the Dragon

  4. Thank you for writing this article, Neymar the Dragon. I had never heard of this law before and it is a very interesting topic. I have signed into the Wi-Fi at Starbucks countless times, and never thought that there was a possibility of it being illegal. You mentioned in the first paragraph that Starbucks and other companies have unlocked Wi-Fi for their customers. Is it illegal to use that Wi-Fi without asking permission? Or is implied permission given to those who shop there? Also, what about restaurants which advertise with signs for free Wi-Fi? Is it breaking the law to use it there? Thank you again for bringing this intriguing topic to my attention.

    1. Hey Demoiselle, thanks for the comment. You bring up a very interesting point. Like Starbucks when restaurants advertise their free Wi-Fi, it is intended for their customers to use. If other people log onto it, say from the parking lot without being a customer from the store, then it is illegal. Also if you are not sure about if you can use the Wi-Fi, then just ask an employee. Thanks again for the comment! Neymar the Dragon

  5. Thanks, Neymar, for the warning about unsecured wi-fi. It appears to have dangers both for the person piggy-backing on an open network and for the person who has an unsecured home wireless network. David Pogue, former New York Times tech writer interviewed a tech expert about public wi-fi. The expert demonstrated a "packet sniffing" program that was easily able to intercept all of Pogue's private emails at a popular wi-fi hot spot/coffee shop. Pogue doesn't necessarily say to stop using free wi-fi, but to be aware that anyone could be listening in. Personally, I tend to turn off my smartphone wi-fi option whenever I am not at home or at work because the constant searching for a network just uses the battery up faster and I do not usually use public wi-fi. Do you? Thanks for the post!--Ms. Riches

  6. Hi Andrew, thanks for the comment! I am glad you now know something knew. I don't think your the only one who has done that sort of thing on trips. I think you just like thousands of other people have done the exact same thing. Just thinks Andrew, now that you know this, your accounts will be safer as well as any other data you might have on your wireless device. Be sure to share this with your mom too, because I doubt she wants her email hacked again. Thanks for the comment, Neymar the Dragon

  7. Using wifi isn't illegal at places like coffee shops, fast food places, even stores as long as you go inside and buy something. Although the same principle would apply at a say a starbucks. If someone goes inside but buys nothing it seems they could be arrested. Also these places are public. Like everything else, the police have found something new to criminalize and get more revenue for their district. It would seem that law applies to private wireless networks and accessing a networks files not open wifi. But the laws aren't that clear. That said, I often access store wifi from my car. I'm always buying something(usually a snack or other food or needed items). But sometimes not at places like hardware stores with open wifi and until I did some research I had no idea that was considered illegal.


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