You Simply Can't Steal WiFi...

by Alan Graham

Related link:;jsessionid=P3KYX40AT2I1YQSNDB…

Like many in the tech community, I found it rather disturbing that someone could be arrested, and then charged with stealing a WiFi signal. What a complete waste of taxpayer resources. I believe (hope) that the judge who sits on the bench will throw out the case.

Here's why:

If you decide to water your lawn and turn on your sprinkler, and the run-off travels across the sidewalk, off of your property, and enters the drain, and then I come along and start to collect that water and put it into a bucket, you can't convict me for stealing your water. I never entered your property, never took a step onto your lawn, I simply never trespassed.

WiFi works the same. If you have a wireless connection in your home, and that connection spills over onto the street, how is that any different? While the signal, like the water, originated from your property, it has also left the property and entered into public property. In fact, I could say that when your signal leaves your house and enters my house, you are trespassing. So why not start arresting homeowners with WiFi?

Now the guy was arrested for unauthorized access to a computer network. But if you use the water analogy, while I'm taking water that is still connected to the stream which originates from your home, I'm clearly in public space and am not violating your water network. Would the Florida police arrest me for unauthorized use of a waterway? It's absurd.

The police clearly overstepped their bounds here. Granted what this guy did might have crossed into the area of tactless and rude, but if you don't want to share your wireless signal with the world, password protect it and possibly don't broadcast your SSID. And if you don't want people using your water, build a moat.

Any other lawbreakers?


2005-07-25 09:09:35
How is it different?
Well, for one thing, most people get their water from the municipality and buy their internet access from a private company (that often has a terms of use that says you can't share it with your neighbors). It's not really interesting to use a WiFi signal that isn't connected to a network, but water is useful in itself. Your analogy is poor.

I don't see how you can say that the police overstepped any bounds. The charge is unauthorized access to a computer network, and that is the alleged activity. If you think that is silly, you need to change the law, not the enforcement. Police don't make the laws, but they have to enforce them when they receive a complaint.

2005-07-25 09:24:28
How is it different?
Indeed. The WiFi connection doesn't exist in-and-of itself, it is connected to something like DSL. Using the Wifi causes the DSL to be used, which is inside the house.

The water-runoff analogy would be better if somehow putting the bucket in the drain caused the water to turn itself on.

The author's example is like saying that, because I can pick up a cordless phone's base station in the street, I'm allowed to use their phone line without permission.

In the end, though, lobbying to change the law is more effective than complaining about the police.

2005-07-25 09:59:46
How is it different?
I would probably be accurate in guessing that most people who use WiFi have accessed a wireless network that didn't "belong" to them...was broadcasting in a public space...and was not WEP protected. I know on many occasions my computer by default selected the strongest signal it could find and joined a network that wasn't mine by accident. Should I be arrested for illegaly accessing an unauthorized network? It's absurd.

It seems rather silly to go around arresting people for accessing something that leaves your property...wasn't maliciously hacked...and is your own responsibility to secure.

There are plenty of other analogies that could be used to show how stupid this is. Fact is you are broadcasting a radio is going beyond your property into public space it.

What this arrest does it simply make anyone who might tag onto what seems like an open wireless shared signal into criminals.

2005-07-25 10:32:10
How is it different?
It's often a question of intent. From the story you posted, the suspect purposedly parked on the street and purposedly used the network from his vehicle. It certainly sounds like he fully intended to use the computer network without permission.

Remember that the police received a complaint. It's not a question of whether the police should cruise the streets looking for people using WiFi because that's not what happened. Without a complaint, they probably would have done nothing.

As for your continued insistence that the suspect was using something that left the property, you have to remember that using it allowed him to access something inside the property. It's not about the WiFi, and the charge isn't about using the WiFi.

2005-07-25 10:56:11
How is it different?
I agree arresting someone for "stealing wi-fi" is ridiculous, as your article attempts to convey by use of a very poor analogy. But you have to look at the actual charge that was made. The previous comments said it best so I won't repeat them. I just want to suggest that you go back and reread the charges made and the laws that are in place.
2005-07-25 10:58:04
How is it different?
The police received a complaint...didn't have to arrest him. It just makes me wonder who will be next?
2005-07-25 11:14:57
Some information you left out
The St. Petersburg Times has longer story (
) , which includes details of the suspicous behavior that led to the call to the police. IDG news tells a similar story (,aid,121747,00.asp) . I'd certainly be worried about that sort of thing in my neighborhood.

I noticed in my search for more details that most people seemed to use only the initial AP story to jump to their various conclusions. The Information Week article you linked to was just the AP copy without additional reporting, and it doesn't seem you've read more than that yourself.

No one has reported what Benjamin Smith was actually doing with the network, so any judgement is pre-mature.

2005-07-25 11:18:52
Some information you left out
I didn't leave anything out...I simply wasn't able to locate additional info about the case...I appreciate the links and I'll read them.
2005-07-25 11:42:38
Some information you left out
Google isn't that hard to use.
2005-07-25 23:38:06
How about if I spray water all over you?
Wifi is a two-directional comunications system. They were deliberately transmitting signals specificaly targeted at those WiFi hot spots with the intent of penetrating them and consuming resources (bandwidth).

In any case, the water argument doesn't stand even if they were being passive. If I snop on your house with binoculars and manage to watch your wife undressing through a chink in the curtains, an I breaking the law? I didn't steal anything - the light weas just spilling over into my eyeballs!

Simon Hibbs

2005-07-26 01:08:32
that guy admitted
that shows his intention to access someone else's network without authorisation.

2005-07-26 10:41:36
Bad analogy
The water sprinkler analogy doesnt [sorry] hold water because with WiFi the person using the spillover will generate traffic effecting the proper user. It's not just using what would be wasted otherwise.
2005-07-29 23:27:42
If unprotected wireless isnt permission...
What is permission. When im in a coffee shop and open up my laptop and there is a connection I don't run around knocking on doors. If im delivering to an apartment and pull out my PDA I don't check for a hotspot sign.

I leave my wireless open. Just as if I left a box of cookies on my office desk for everyone to enjoy. Do we live in a world that when coming into the office and there is a box of donuts out the owner can lurk behind and report the eaters? What hapend to the days when food you didnt want to share was in a bag with your name on it? Rather than out there to entrap whoever walks by.

I think that the most importaint part of the story was missed. The guy actually knew he should have put a password on the wireless. I share mine and have, up till now, used public open wireless. A password will not stop any criminal from stealing your wireless. But it is claiming that connection as your private sack of bandwith you don't want people snacking on.

2005-07-30 01:57:03
If unprotected wireless isnt permission...
What happened to a world where people wouldn't take a doughnut unless the owner EXPLICITLY lets people know that he is sharing the doughnuts?

And every time some ignorant moron says something to the effect of "If it is not protected, the owner deserves to have someone use it" they just prove how idiotic they are. That is like someone saying "Look what that girl was wearing! She WANTED me to rape her!"

Bottom line. If you don't pay for it, and you use it, you are STEALING. You are using up their bandwidth. Period. The author can make up incorrect analogies to water all he wants. It doesn't mean he has ANY grasp of the law. He clearly does not.

2005-07-30 02:01:13
How is it different?
Well, first of all, NO ONE has been arrested for simply having their computer access someone else's WiFi "accidentally" And no one WILL. None of hte cases that have involved arrests have been this. It is people purposely using other people's WiFi. Basically, if you are on a private street that is not yours, you KNOW it is not yours and you know t is not a business that allows it. So don't access it.

Seriously, do people REALLY need to be that geeky that they have to be online at all times! try some ACTUAL human interaction people! IT is much better. I heard someone talk about accessing it on a beach. And quite frnakly, if you are trying to get online while on a beach, you shouldn't go to jail. You should be put out of your misery and killed.

2005-07-30 02:05:13
How is it different?
Yes, they DO have to arrest someone for stealing. You can spin it all you like, but you are WRONG, plain and simple. Sayikng the cops didn't have to arrest him is like syaing "The cops didn't have to arrest Kenneth Lay." Same thing. Stealing is steling. And it is against the law. If you ar a piece of garbage who likes to use things that you don't pay for, then pay the price. And those who purposely use WiFi that is not theirs are just that. Worthless garbage. I suspect you fall into that category since you are so adamant on this subject.
2005-07-30 06:59:18
Do everyone a favor.
Please, do everyone a favor and go park in someone's driveway and steal their wifi. Then, when you get arrested and tried, try using this moronic argument on the judge so that we can all have a laugh as you get your worthless thieving hide hauled off to jail.


2005-07-31 01:34:51
Unahorized access?
If a network doesn't require authorization then how can there be unauthorized access?

No doubt this will be thrown out, but I can't say I blame them, if someone was sitting in their car outside my house for that long I would have called the police too.

2005-08-04 05:47:37
Unahorized access?
>If a network doesn't require authorization then how can there be unauthorized access?

It depends on what you think the deafult should be. By default, is the onus on me to always keep my door locked, or is the onus on you to knock on my door anyway and ask permisson to enter?

This is not a theoretical question. While renting a flat in London my girlfriend (now my wife) popped out to the shop next dor and forgot to make sure the door was properly latched shut - it wasn't. A guy on the street snuck into our house and helped himself to some stuff, and knocked her on the floor on his way out down the stairs.

By default, it is _at_least_ extremely bad manners to intrude on someone else's property, access their services, or even just snoop on them from a public place. I think it's perfectly fair for society to upgrade that from being bad manners to being illegal where it is deemed necessery.

Snooping, instruding and acessing unprotected services is not a fundamental right. It is a privilege we choose to grant, and can choose to withdraw, but the onus should not be on individuals to have to protect themselves from casual abuse. The onus as responsble citizens should be on us to behave in a fair and reasonable manner.

Simon Hibbs

2005-08-09 11:48:24
Unahorized access?
I think the problem is indeed with the laws about unauthorized access of a computer network. The law was created to prosecute hackers who connect to a network via telnet or some other means. The rub is that this is wireless access. If it is unprotected, then you are implicitly authorizing access. If the guy had crawled in the window and plugged an ethernet cable into the wall, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

I think the guy whose network had been accessed would be singing a different tune if the guy who was arrested had done something illegal and the owner of the network had been arrested for being negligent regarding his network. Hacking and child pornography come to mind as possible reasons a network owner could be charged in this regard. If you are irresponsible enough to leave your network open, you should be held responsible for what someone could do with it.

2005-09-10 20:41:01
You are hosting free wi-fi without a password!
Point # 1: the first step in preventing theft is to do what? Prevent the opportunity!!! So how is that done? Put a password on your network!

Point #2: Using unprotected wifi is not stealing. If a network is not being protected by a password you are pretty much hosting a public server. Universities like the UCF in my area host public wi-fi servers that are not password protected on purpose so they can be used by anyone. If you leave yours unprotected you are hosting public internet access just like my university(don't complain because you were too lazy to put on a password). If you leave it unprotected then you are inviting anyone who is in the area to use it as no one will be able to tell if its supposed to be a private network. Assuming that people will know that your network is private when you can`t take the time to protect it is riddiculous; it is like assuming that someone can read your mind by just looking at you.

---!!!(It's not hard to find out how to create a password and it shouldn't take too long either, don't make excuses so you can be angry)!!!---

This isn't exctly what I wanted to write but it will have to do as I cannot remember the exact wording that I had in mind a couple days ago.

2006-02-01 10:06:29
been stealing myself
OKÖIíll admit it. Iíve been borrowing my neighborís internet access without his permission. Iím in a undisclosed Central American country and stealing WiFi is no fellony here. Cable internet access is horribly high ($52 per month). I hid a wireless expander (Linksys WRE54G paired to his BEFW11S4) inside a lamp outside my house and pulling in as much as 400 kbits (not that I am, but I could).

Didnít know it was such as big deal until I started to read the opinions of other people. Donít know if I would stop doing it as to my best knowledge Iím not hurting anyone.

2006-03-10 12:20:14
bull shit
hey well u talking about not doing this and that! well im trying to steal connections right now! hope its not urs unless u want to share!