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10-5 Use Wi-Fi Legally

(c) 2010, Mona Leeson Vanek

Staying on the safe side of the law is never foolish no matter what anyone claims so it makes good sense to know Wi-Fi laws, and abide by them. History is often our best teacher, and you won't go wrong by following Debra Littlejohn Shinder advice, because it's still relevant.

A June, 2007 news item, by Sara Bonisteel, reported the arrest and conviction of a man piggybacking on a cafe's Wi-Fi,,2933,276720,00.html. That resulted in my decision to add the following information, provided by Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP, editor of WXPNews and author of "Scene of the Cybercrime (Syngress Publishing)."

(c) 2009 Debra Littlejohn Shinder

"There are a number of different issues involved in connecting to an open wireless network or opening up your own wireless network to the public. Some are contractual issues and others involve criminal laws.

"First, let's look at the contractual issues. In the case of consumer ISP accounts, most providers prohibit in their terms of service (ToS) agreements allowing anyone outside of your household to use your Internet bandwidth. Thus someone else connecting to your network could cause you to have your Internet service terminated either temporarily or permanently. So while running a "freenet" or a wireless network that's intentionally open to the public may seem like a generous thing to do, but it could have serious consequences if you don't have the permission of your ISP.

"Even if your ISP permits you to share your bandwidth, be careful about doing so. A computer connecting to your network can deliberately or inadvertently spread viruses, worms, Trojans, rootkits, etc. throughout your network or serve as a conduit for an attack if he/she connects to web sites that run malicious controls or applets. These could result in loss of data, network downtime and even corruption of your system files to the point of having to reinstall your operating system and applications.

"Also be aware of how your service is billed. Although most ISPs these days provide "unlimited" service for a set fee, some DSL and T-1 providers DO still charge by the megabyte so that a rogue wireless computer on the network can put the you over the threshold for the next level of service and cost you more money.

"Many people are sharing their networks without even knowing they're doing it because the default setting on their WAP or router is for the network to be open. Be sure to check your device's settings and if you don't want to or aren't permitted to run an open network, enable encryption.

"From the other end (using someone else's wireless connection), it's important to understand that this is illegal under the criminal laws of most states in the U.S. if you don't have the network owner's permission. Just because the other person or company left their network open (unencrypted), that doesn't mean you have consent to use it, just as the fact that your neighbor leaves his front door unlocked doesn't give you permission to enter his house without his permission. Laws differ in different jurisdictions and unauthorized access is a felony in many areas. Be sure you know what the laws are where you are.

"Some people, companies and public entities do set up free wireless networks that they invite anyone to use. You should be careful, though, when taking advantage of such freebies. A freenet operated by a municipality or other government entity or a legitimate company is relatively safe (although connecting to any public wireless network poses some security risks). But connecting to a freenet set up by an individual you don't know can result in all sorts of trouble.

"Some bad guys are deliberately setting up open wireless networks and naming them something like "FREENET" to encourage people to connect, then accessing the info on those computers and using it for identity theft. Never, ever connect to a random wireless network with a computer that has any kind of financial or personal information on it (and be aware that if, for example, you've entered things like your banking password or your credit card info into a web browser, it may very well be cached (saved) on the hard drive)."

DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER is a Microsoft MVP specializing in enterprise security and CEO of TACteam (Trainers, Authors and Consultants). A former police officer/criminal justice instructor, she has written or contributed to over 20 books and hundreds of articles for print and online publications.

Remember, when you buy a Wi-Fi equipped device it's your responsibility to find out what you can and can't legally do with that device, just as it would be if you were buying any other piece of electronics. There are alternatives to illegal piggybacking -- and some form of Internet access is available at most universities and libraries.

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