Illegally Using a Neighbor's Wireless Access: Throw the Book at 'em?

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They, whoever “they” are who sort out these things, haven’t quite worked out all the ins and outs of the internet and internet use. So we have a wide range of “opinions” out there about everything from internet porn to intellectual property rights to website content–some people seek to ban websites that inform young girls on the very best ways to become an anorexic and then hide the disease; other groups would like to see access limited, at least from schools and public libraries in the U. S., to websites that provide recipes for bombs of all kinds, bombs to meet one’s every need. This blog isn’t about any of that. At least not directly.

I just read an article about a Singapore youth (17) convicted of tapping illegally into his neighbor’s wireless internet access. This is a jailable offense in Singapore, but then graffiti painting is punishable by a public beating (remember that American kid who . . . no, wait, back to the internet thing). The internet access stealing kid in question is lucky that he was sentenced to only eighty (80) hours community service and eighteen (18) months probation; he could have been sentenced to three (3) years in prison and a fine up to 10,000 Singapore dollars ($6,500 U. S. and 3,320.21 English pounds–I don’t know how to make the pound sign on here, sorry). For tapping into his neighbor’s wireless and accessing the internet to play online games. The poor kid is even being shuffled off to see a shrink for his “addiction.”

The kid didn’t tap into his neighbor’s computer and wreak havoc with his files, and he didn’t use the internet connection to do any nefarious deeds . . . at least none were reported; he just wanted to play online video games. Somehow, I just don’t see the big. I have wireless, it’s encrypted so random folks can’t tap in, but if someone did, I wouldn’t press charges if they’re just checking their email or playing some game. Once they start finding ways onto my computer or using my ip addy to buy white slaves or illegal drugs . . . well, then we have a problem, but these activities fall under existing laws about the badness of buying people and/or drugs.

I guess this story hits home with me because when I was at my mom’s this Christmas, I was using her neighbor’s wireless connection whenever it was available (not often) and for brief periods of time (like in five minute chunks). My laptop just picked it up out of the ether, like magic. I did nothing at all to get it, wouldn’t have known what to do to get it, actually, and when it dropped, it dropped. I guess I could have hit “help” and put a stop to that convenient if unreliable not dial up access, but . . . well, why? I was just trying to blog. But I can assure you, if I’d known it was illegal (not sure of U. S. laws on this?) or if I’d been in Singapore, I would not have been so cavalier about it.

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20 thoughts on “Illegally Using a Neighbor's Wireless Access: Throw the Book at 'em?

  1. I have a Broadband wireless, but I really don’t know whether it is secured or not, it is beyond my comprehension. I wish they could make it easier, till then I am stuck. The Broadband companies have to do a better job I think to protect us, but sadly they don’t. Regarding the punishment for this Singapore person seems excessive, but there the laws are always strict, on the one hand there is control, it is the cleanest city in the world, but the other hand it looks inhuman. Here in NC there is no laws, trash is everywhere, so I wish laws are strict here also.

  2. I would have used it too, if it was open to use. The first thing the wireless notebooks do is scan to see if there are any available networks….you don’t want to share then you secure your network. Lucky you….if anyone had dialup within a mile of me I would be surprised.

  3. I can see the problem here and the security settings of the off-the-shelf wireless routers are not simple for the novice user. As time goes on, individuals following the instructions provided will adjust to the settings as they did when they wanted to record a TV Show to their VCR. I work the other side of the fence in my industry so I know other aspects that most people don’t consider regarding unsecured connectivity. When Katrina struck our shoreline, many people needed conectivity to an infra-structure that had been severed. There were hotels nearby that relieved their security settings so that support individuals could get up and connected while providing relief efforts. We were thankful for this and glad that there were some with enough tangible sense to allow us this priviledge. Any laws crafted to punish someone for acquiring remote access to unsecured wireless need to be combed over with a fine tooth comb in order to prevent abuses for security related mis-fires.

  4. Every time me or my husband use our laptop in our house, a connection for my dumbarse neighbor comes on. We have to click off it quickly. In these days and times, if someone is stupid enough not to secure their wireless line then more fool them. One could actual view their unsecure line as an invite!

  5. It’s SNOWING!!! Hooray!!
    Just had to get that out of my system….It is our first real snow of the year and absolutely beautiful.

    OK…wireless…No question in my mind. The very name wireless says it all…Wireless as in through the free air that we breathe.

    The security is and should be at the computer end of the process…As long as you have a receiver that can pick up the signals then I say go for it.

    In fact here in Portland there is FREE wifi in the downtown core area…it is new and just starting so the area covered is still small and only about 200 can access the system at any given moment, but the goal is for the entire Portland metropolitan area to have free wireless access…Hooray!!
    This is a project of the city and not a private enterprise.

    Another thought provoking blog Fuzzy…Thank you.

  6. My last sentence sounded so weird that I feel I should re-phrase….

    Fuzzy…You have written another thought-provoking blog.

  7. Hei Fuzz.

    Interesting blog – as I am accustomed to beginning me comments in the House of Fuzz!! If the people, whose the connection is, have passwords, security et all the others could not tap into them. That is what we have in here. The laptop picks up a whole wide range of signals but I could not tune into them without knowing their codes n passwords – unless one is gifted in the menace of hacking, that is. I am not.

    Take care n do keep well, swell n do thrill us with another fabu blog. Rii xx

  8. Hey Chris! I’m like you, this stuff is way over my head; they really could make it easier, and maybe (as River suggests) they will. As you say, they are harsh about crime in Singapore, and as it’s a small place, I guess they can be. I don’t have a problem with their laws there or our citizens being held to them, never have. And litter is a prob in NC? I’m surprised. Well, not very. :))

    Thanks Pris, just the validation I need. Truly. :))

    Hey River, well, as I’ve said, this stuff is just a bit too complicated to my mind. Seems that it could be easier; especially the encryption process, ip stuff, oooh, all of it. I don’t know how the law in Singapore works, but I imagine it’s one of those that has to be pursued by the person whose access is being accessed. Without a complaint, who would know? Anyway, that would circumvent too strict enforcement during emergencies.

    I wanted mine secure because I tend to be pretty private in general not because I’ve got anything that I wouldn’t share. Not on my computer!! Again, private, remember? LOL But I didn’t set it up and if anything ever goes wrong, I have to call support. Sucks. But what can ya do? Well, I could learn, but I’ve got enough on my plate.

    Rainy, I so agree, it should be free since it’s OUT there, and if someone wants it protected on their end, do so. If you don’t, then that’s your loss. I don’t know if that kid hacked it or if it was open; it would be good to know for the sake of discussion. As to your lovely compliment; it’s much appreciated in both forms! :))

    Thanks, Rii!! You’re comments always mean so much, especially when you say you begin your bloggin’ at my “house”! Yay me!! LOL I so agree, too, the security should be the owner’s responsibility; mine is my responsibility, and it’s encrypted, and I don’t even know what goes on with it!! Huggs!! xx

  9. I would agree completly on your terms Fuzzy. The internet and access to it transcends the almight dollar these days. Access to the internet is more important than the old phone service itself. I will reluctantly fall short of saying that it should be a free service however. If I had a wireless system in my house, I would know on my neighbors doors and let them know that it is available for their use! Like you however, if somebody starts messing with my interior, we will have problems and severe restrictions will result!

  10. hmmm, that is one of those questions…sure, you could say, “what’s the big deal if they’re just checking their email?” but how do you know? and are you saying, too, that you don’t mind paying for a service and allowing someone else to use it for free? it makes me think of those people who hook into other people’s cable boxes to get free cable. i don’t have wireless internet access, so maybe my analogy is all wrong, but still, i don’t see the fairness of it. internet access, at least here in the us, can be pretty expensive. and i, personally, would not be happy if i found out someone was mooching off me, even if it was just to check their email.

    very interesting topic. 🙂

  11. Hey Fuzzy,

    I have a wireless connection here and no sure that I would like someone logging in and using it for themselves. After all I had to pay for the connection to the internet and didn’t get it off anyone else so why shouldn’t they pay for it to. Not sure that I would know if anyone was using it mind and don’t think that I encripted it when I loaded the thing. Blimey it was enough to get it working for my computer. However, it does crach sometimes and I can’t work out why, perhaps someone is knicking my connection. Thanks for teh ramblings, another interesting blog in Fuzzy world. Hugs to you and Banbury x

  12. If my neighbor had wireless I would have the courtesy to ask first before using. I would grant him the same if he asked me. If I wanted it all the time I would buy my own or ask to buy into his system. It’d be only fair. But if they do it just to be cheap and get a free ride off my dollar I would be insulted. I might want to block or jam them for being such low life.

  13. Hey guys, just a quick note before I dash off to my occupational therapy appointment. Ugh. Anyway, my wireless, as I said, is encrypted so that no one can access it. Period. Well, I guess that some hacker could, but there’d be no point unless they wanted into MY computer because there are a great many unencrypted networks in my building. Therein lies a “permissions” problem; there is no way to know whose network is whose, so you can’t ask if you can use it unless you go door to door. I guess if you had only a few neighbors that might be different, but in subdivisions (like where my mom lives) and apartment buildings, it’s not clear. The connections are called “belkin” or “wireless” or “systick” or whatever the person wants it called. I think the default may be the manufacturer’s name? Anyway, as far as I know, there is no weakening of the signal if others tap into it as there is with cable, but that’s a good analogy, really. I guess the problem would be if there were some sort of mischief being done. Wow, you guys have given me still more food for thought. Thanks. And huggs all ’round.

  14. I am not computer competent. If the system works I am happy, but if it does not work then I am in trouble. Internet charges are crazy expensive these days! I am not sure that free access would be a good idea; I wouldn’t mind paying for a competent professional to help with Internet problems. However, I still say that what is being charged for decent Internet service is too much, especially for DSL and the like.

  15. Yes, I’m with you, Ceres, it’s really so expensive for internet access, and it’s probably not going to go down. Look at cable prices; outrageous to my mind. Sigh. But I have to have access or I’ll go insane. Must blog. LOL Huggs to you!

  16. The problem as I see it is that you want a “have my cake AND eat it” scenario. It’s ok to use other folk’s wireless connection, as long as it’s only for certain things. But if those self-same folks use your connection to do certain things, that’s different. But what constitues an invasion of privacy is an individual thing. What you may consider harmless and inoffensive, another will think of as gross invasion of privacy. Personally, I have no great faith in the encryption systems you hold in such high regard. I just remember the phrase “what one man can encrypt, another can decrypt”. Can you really say for sure that the young man in Singapore WASN’T a hacker? Good hackers can cover their tracks really well. They don’t have the word tattooed on their foreheads, after all. Most are intelligent, savvy, and look just like any other person……
    Personally I will not have wireless connectivity, for that very reason. I would regard ANY unauthorised use of my access a violation of privacy.
    As for Singapore’s laws…..you may not agree with them, but they ARE that country’s laws and that guy broke them.

  17. Hmmm, not that I hold it in high regard, but the encryption system is the only one we have, and it keeps out the casual hacker. Kind of like locks on doors, really, if someone wants in . . . I mean REALLY wants in, they’ll get in, but unless you’re Fort Knox or the Louvre, chances are pretty good, they’ll just move on to easier prey. As to the you can use it for this not that thing; some internet activities are illegal, gaming is not. That’s the distinction and the guide I would use. Buying a sex slave = illegal. It’s not about privacy to me, not that part. And no, I can’t say that the kid wasn’t a hacker, but the story didn’t mention it. I would imagine that if he is a hacker, they’ll figure it out by asking the owner of the connection if it was encrypted and if so, did he give out his “key” to this kid. If the answer is “yes” and then “no” then the kid hacked the guy’s connection. Period. No, I don’t agree with the laws, but then again, I didn’t really love seeing that American kid lashed for graffiti, but I supported Singapore’s right to enforce their laws at that time (and now). I can’t expect foreignors to abide by my country’s laws when here if I don’t abide by their country’s laws when there. And that goes for my fellow countrymen, as well.

  18. And the ref to Fort Knox and the Louvre didn’t make it clearly to the page . . . I just meant there is no impenetrable barrier or locking system, that if someone wants in, they’ll get in, even to places this heavily guarded. Ultimately, we lock things so we hope that the person who would steal them will just move on to something easier to get to.

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