Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wireless piggybacking can be illegal when it pops up as available

It can be illegal to use a private wireless network without permission. When you have a wireless-enabled laptop, it is your responsibility to make sure you have permission to use it, particularly if you don’t see a pop-up screen saying that it is a public network.]

At least, that’s the law in Michigan, and may be in Maryland, according to a Fox News story by Sara Bonisteel, June 5, 2007, “Michigan man fined for using coffee shop’s wi-fi network”. The link is here. The man was checking email in his car outside the shop when the police saw him. Michigan passed the law to prevent wi-fi hacking. The law extends a 1979 computer crime law to prevent piggybacking on wi-fi.

The man, Sam Peterson II, was sentenced to a $400 fined and 40 hours of community service for a misdemeanor. He could have faced a felony charge with 5 years in prison and a $10000 fine.

In most coffee shops, paying customers presumably have permission to use free wi-fi, which may not be well secured.

It’s common when logging on to wireless enable laptops for local networks to come up as being available, with some requiring a customer-id logon. But presumably one needs permission to use them.

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