On The Air

Posted on 18th April 2007

Seeing as I live in the area, this got plastered all over the local news. Two people were cautioned for using someone else's wireless network. Now I don't care for the sensationalist reporting, but the heart of the article does convey that we do require better education for home users about this. However, tradition dictates that readers and viewers only care if media scares them enough! If someone is going to put up cardboard to hide their activities, then yes they are probably doing something they shouldn't, but scaremongering that anyone with a laptop outside your house is going to be hacking your network or accessing illegal sites it just irresponsible.

If the network is routed via a broadband network, as is suggested here, as pretty much most of Redditch and South Birmingham have cable, the network owner is paying a flat fee. Additional useage from someone else incurs no extra charge. Admittedly this may be different for some other providers that charge for the bandwidth, and if the user of your network decides to download large files. In pretty much every instance, these wardrivers are not hacking your network, they are just using the transport mechanism to access the internet. While there might be some who are now considering accessing illegal sites, the traditional wardriver is more interested in standard web surfing, email checking or accessing their own servers when they are away from home.

The upshot is that situations like those which Grep found himself in and pretty much ever wardriver are now going to be seen as illegal in the public's eyes. I've used other open wireless networks, and it was extremely useful when I was looking for second-hand cars, as I could search the AutoTrader site and locate maps to figure out where to go next. My wireless network is open by choice as I don't live somewhere where you can just casually drive-by anyway, and it's convenient when anybody stays over for them just to connect, rather than mess about with configuring their secure settings for wireless networking.

However, wouldn't it be much better to try and educate owners of wireless networks, to the implications of running an open wireless network, and how to do basic security? It's not difficult to secure a wireless router enough to be unavailable to the casual wardriver. If someone is dedicated enough to want to crack the router security, then there isn't much you are going to do about it anyway. Although there is an explanation on how to set up security in the user guide for probably every wireless router, it's easy to forget that many owners don't understand it and just want it to work.

Apparently this is the first case of it's kind. It's a shame it's even happened, as the encouragement for open wireless networks (such as SOWN) or wireless community projects is potentially going to suffer. If these people were doing something illegal, then fine they should accept the consequences. The sensationalism attached to the story though is largely illusory as the reporters have no idea what sites or activities these individuals were using the networks for.

The story has now gone national. One interesting point that has been noted elsewhere, is how this might effect owners of Nokia and Motorola WiMAX phones? Members of my family haven't asked yet, but I suspect I may be busy this weekend.


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