According to a recent report by USA Today newspaper, people stealing Internet access has become one of the top three Internet concerns of law enforcement, along with “botnets” and domain hacking. Unfortunately, as CantonRep reports, not all Internet access stealing is as cut and dried as are such crimes in the real world.
Botnets are armies of computers running small pieces of code for a single, generally unlawful purpose. Domain hacking is where criminals redirect traffic from legitimates sites to their own. Internet stealing is where people gain access to the Internet using someone else’s connection. It can be done haphazardly, as happens when one neighbor gets on the Internet using another neighbor’s Wi-Fi. Or it can be more direct where someone actually splices an Internet cable and siphons off access using a router that has been preconfigured to mimic that of the original account holder.
CantonRep says that as many as 14% of all non-business users get on the Internet by hopping on using someone else’s Wif-Fi connection and the number keeps climbing every year. The problem they say, is that in many areas, no one seems to know if the practice is actually illegal.
Splicing into someone else’s cable clearly is, as is selling programmable hardware to make using such Internet access easier says USA Today, which notes that several people in the past couple of years have gone to jail for that very crime.
The driving factor of course is the high cost of Internet access. Many people, especially in a tough economy simply can’t afford what service providers are charging. Also, USA Today says, service providers aren’t providing end users with any tools to help them stop other’s from stealing service through them. There’s also the problem, they say, of legitimate users being charged with crimes that are committed by Internet access thieves. Notably a man in California was arrested for downloading child pornography. After several months of investigation it was determined that the man was innocent, it was his neighbor, jumping on his Wi-Fi that that was the actual culprit.
For Wi-Fi, CantonRep says many users don’t know how to password protect their connection and don’t bother to learn because they don’t notice much if any degradation of service. Thus, it falls to the service provider or perhaps the companies that make Wi-Fi routers to force the issue and make password protection the default configuration.
But of course, as USA Today notes, nothing is likely to change unless lawmakers take notice of the problem and start enacting laws to force those in a position to do so to prevent illegal Internet access.