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Police Enforcing Wi-Fi Security?

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

With more people setting up personal/home Wi-Fi networks, opportunistic Wi-Fi hijackers are finding themselves free to roam around cities in search of unsecure networks looking for ways to steal identity data. The Queensland, Australia Police are wise to this growing trend, and in an effort to educate citizens and combat cyber crimes, they’ve decided to do something about it.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the Queensland Police fraud squad have decided to turn a very serious eye towards unsecured wireless networks to try to prevent crimes from happening as would-be Wi-Fi exploiters have criminal interests and are “now sharing information on satellite maps showing vulnerable areas with large numbers of unsecured networks.”.  An unknown number of officers will begin paroling residential streets to sniff out unsecured wireless networks, an act known as ‘wardriving’ amongst hackers.

If someone is able to gain unauthorized access to your Wi-Fi network, they may be able to commit identity theft, access sensitive files on your computers, or even use your Internet account to send out viruses and spam emails.  None of these acts will end pleasantly for the person with the unsecured network, but the good news is that in Queensland, the mere act of accessing someone else’s broadband connection without permission is illegal.  While catching people in the act is difficult, this is where the movement for prevention by the police comes in.

Queensland Police believe that they are the first department in the world to undertake wardriving. The name of the game at this point is prevention according to Detective Superintendent Brian Hay who told the newspaper, ”These things are going to be exploited more and more as time goes on … we want to close the holes before too much damage is done.”

In some parts of the world, Wi-Fi piggybacking is considered to be a form of criminal hacking. Last year, police arrested a 39-year-old man for using his laptop to connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi connection as he sat on a garden wall in the London suburb of Chiswick. And in a case that was widely publicized in the US, Sam Peterson of Sparta, Michigan, was charged after using a cafe's wireless connection to check his e-mail.  Similarly, a Florida man was once charged with a felony for accessing someone else's Wi-Fi network.

While these stories have garnered much publicity, the reality is that actual arrests for WiFi theft remain few and far between.  In a 2008 survey, 12% of U.S. and U.K. respondents to an Accenture survey admitted to having logged on to someone else's unsecured Wi-Fi connection - so the police would be busy if they tried to arrest everybody!

Of course, you have to wonder why the police have to be called in to enforce the idea of RTFM -- read the "friendly" manual.  Yup, if more people just read the manual, even the get started guides that come with most routers, there would not be a big issue with unsecured wireless routers.

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