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Is Wifi War Driving Unethical/Illegal?

I’ve been compiling a list of free wifi hotspots in the metro for a couple of months now. Whenever I work outside on a coffee shop and they have Airborne Access, I use my free account with them but if it’s not available in the area, I try and hook up with other open APs I find.

The lingering question here is that is it illegal, even unethical at the very least?

If a person sets up a wifi network and leaves it open, I think he is basically giving consent to others to use his internet connection (in legal terms, quantum meruit).

It’s like turning on your 54″ HDTV at home, leaving the windows open so that passersby can take peek and watch a movie from the streets.

What’s your stand on this?

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  • Right on the money, Yuga…

    But the “leaving the network unsecured” should be an informed and deliberate decision.

    It’s like forgetting to unlock your house or car. That does not make stealing stuff in it less illegal…

  • I wouldn’t say its illegal, but it is somewhat unethical, especially if the bandwidth owner is not conversant enough to turn on encryption.

    The better analogy would be assuming someone unknowingly left the front door open, it is still not right to go inside and rob his house.

  • I know of several places where the owner either deliberately or unknowingly leaves their wifi connection open.

    These are private individuals, btw, which might mean they aren’t as techie to know that they are leaving themselves vulnerable.

    For me, it is unethical to abuse these. But it’s like illegal cable-tapping. Mahirap pigilan.

  • Here are some analogies I thought are more parallel:

    You’re in a dorm on a hot summer day. A room mate turns on his electric fan. You went closer to get some cool air. Did I just stole some of his cold air?

    You’re riding on a jeepney. A man next to you is reading a newspaper. You peek hoping to get some reading yourself. Did I just stole from him?

    A fire hydrant burst open sprinkling water all over the street. Kids rush in and took a bath from it. Is it illegal?

    While waiting for a bus on EDSA, it suddenly rained hard. An old lady next to me opened up a huge umbrella. Since there’s no shed anywhere near, I eased up beside her hoping to get some shelter.

  • Yup, some individuals will deliberately open up their bandwidth to the public. That’s their choice. However, how sure are we on the owner’s consent?

    I would say it is illegal. It is, in every way, similar to breaking-in to a corporate LAN.

    And besides, the owner might be techie enough to eavesdrop on a freeloading adventurist.

  • I find it unethical if you are actively searching for these open access points. But you can’t do anything when you open your laptop and it’s there for the taking. If your neighbor has his AP open, use it. Or it’s just me not backing out when given something for free.

  • It’s illegal here in the Philippines. But not unethical, IMHO, if you only intend to use it sparingly.

  • Yuga,

    Most of the examples you mentioned (with the possible exception of the fire hydrant analogy) may not be not illegal, but it could be considered disrespectful.

    Moreover, the “owner” involved has the capability of calling the attention of the 2nd party. Not exactly the same situation in a wifi scenario since the “owner” of the bandwidth may not have sufficient knowledge.

    Put also in another way, assuming you discovered that someone, without your explicti permission, is leeching your electricity, wouldn’t you get upset?

  • I allow our neighbour to leach off of my wifi with my consent. I believe that the ethics issue depends on whether the owner is aware of it, aware of the consequences to all parties, and continues to allow it.

    Imho, the way I figure it, I pay a flat rate for the DSL service monthly, whether we abuse it or it just sits there. Since I’m confident with my network’s security and the extra user hasn’t slowed us down any, why not?

    Having said that, should those conditions change, I might think twice too.

  • @ Mon

    If I pay a flat rate on my electricity bills (just like my DSL), then no problem.

    @ gab

    Sana neighbor tayo! 😉

  • wrencelot

    one word: no.

    with all the conversations you guys are having, something hit me like a kick in the balls: why ddnt someone come up with a gadget, an appliance for axample, that will multiply electricity from electricity..? if electricity can power up my electic fan, and if a windmill can harvest electricity from wind, then what are the possible equations to create electricity infinity..?

    where are those damn electricians when you need one..

  • @ wrencelot

    Law of Conservation of Matter & Energy states that the total inflow of energy into a system must equal the total outflow of energy from the system, plus the change in the energy contained within the system. In other words, energy can be converted from one form to another, but it cannot be created nor destroyed.

  • ‘leech’ pala, not ‘leach’. arg.

    Anyway, imho again, ultimately it’s a matter of choice depending on factors of a specific situation.

    If as the wifi owner I feel I’m getting gypped, I’ll stop it asap. Also if I leech from someone, then maybe I should stop and ask permission first.

    In my case, I don’t think I lose anything. In fact, I gain. Our neighbours (both retired ADMU professors), are appreciative and invite us to dinner from time to time to just talk and stuff (hopefully because they like our company, and not just because of the free wifi :D).

    Anyway letting them use something I don’t pay any extra for is a no brainer in exchange for new friendships. 🙂

  • wrencelot

    i doubt that is not all true, nor applies to all.. if some people think that welling a wifi access is not illegal/unlawful, then i think some people out there is about to the break that law of conservation of matter and energy.. that my friend, is what they call technology..

    “the law applies to all, otherwise none at all..”


  • Yuga,

    True, you may pay a flat rate, but imagine if someone you don’t know is leeching your bandwidth, causing your own bandwidth to slow down.

    I know we can stretch the analogy, but my basic issue is if I am using bandwidth to download something, and some stranger is using my bandwidth as well, then my download would suffer and I would be very upset.

    Which is why I enable encryption . . .

    The correct and ethical approach is for the wifi owner to explicitly put signage outside his house saying that this is a free wifi zone.

  • Yuga/wrencelot,

    The law of conversion of matter and energy also applies to bandwidth. If someone is leeching my bandwidth without my explicit permission, then he is technically denying me the bandwidth that I paid for.

  • As the saying goes, “RTFM!!”. I believe it’s the owner’s responsibility to secure his network.

    I tried leaving our home wireless network open before because I wanted to share the bandwidth access and a couple of files, I changed my mind, remembering that I was also publicly sharing printers and that it reached the other block (too public?).

    I also believe that it shouldn’t be illegal since the responsibility is in the owner/admin of the network. I believe that it’s only unethical to force your way in in an encrypted wireless network. It would also be great if the freeloaders would thank me for the access.

  • jploh,
    RTFM is honestly not the right way in addressing this (and frankly I find that reaction quite rude)

    I have seen the Linksys manuals and it does not adequately explain the necessary steps to setup a secure network. I had to go through the internet to find out myself.

  • Sir Mon,

    I just checked the manual of my Linksys WAP54G, it’s written clearly in the Quick Installation guide. It is also part of the setup wizard (screen H). The security features are also written at the back of the box with the opening statement, “To protect your data and privacy…” They also have 24/7 tech support if you don’t have the manual.

    If I’m not mistaken, any person that works with precious data that reads “privacy” and “protect data” on any printed matter will check it out and prioritize it.

    I’m not saying it’s all in the manual but I did say that it is the sole responsibility of the owner of the wireless network. If the person didn’t bother to secure it, it’s most likely that he wouldn’t mind that his bandwidth will be borrowed.

  • I stand corrected. I have a linksys WRT45G and yes it is in the manual. But put yourself in the shoes of an ordinary consumer.

    The info is buried in Appendix B, p.52. And it is 8 pages long, and it has several tech-speak terms like: SSID, MAC Address, firmware, WEP, WPA, etc.

    The description of WPA will already confuse most non-techies: Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is the newest and best available standard in Wi-Fi security. Two modes are
    available: Pre-Shared Key and RADIUS. Pre-Shared Key gives you a choice of two encryption methods: TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol), which utilizes a stronger encryption method and incorporates Message Integrity Code (MIC) to provide protection against hackers, and AES (Advanced Encryption System), which utilizes
    a symmetric 128-Bit block data encryption. RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service) utilizes a RADIUS server for authentication and the use of dynamic TKIP, AES, or WEP.

    Looking at this, the non-techie, who is already quite stressed because of the deluge of info, will have to choose between TKIP or AES. He wouldn’t know whether to use PSK or RADIUS. He would naturally be afraid to change any parameter for fear it would cause irrepairable harm.

    Moreover, it was quite difficult to find instructions of how to configure the other workstations to use the same encryption key. I knew that I had to pair each workstation mainly because of my experience, but ordinary consumers may not know this.

    My point here is that we are techies and hence we do know this information. But there are a lot of people who don’t. And IMHO it is unfair and unethical to take advantage of that.

  • It’s illegal in the Philippines, if you consider it to fall under this definition:

    “unauthorized access into or interference in a computer system/server or information and communication system … xxx … without the knowledge and consent of the owner of the computer or information and communications system”


    Paging Atty. Punzi … 😉

  • With reference to my previous comment, I’m still of the opinion that wardriving or WiFi poaching is illegal. But then again, it may not necessarily be unethical. (Yes, these two concepts can be mutually exclusive.)

    Windows XP usually latches on to third-party signals even without the user’s knowledge (by virtue of Wireless Zero Config). So IMHO, it is up to the owner of the wireless network to know enough to implement even simple security measures. Otherwise, third parties may alreay–unknowingly or not–be using the wireless network’s resources. At any rate, even with complicated manuals, most modern routers would let users activate the security features in the set-up wizard.

  • If anyone is interested in knowing how to protect a wireless network, here’s my link on network security.

  • There are a lot of issues to be considered but let me just focus on what I think has the strongest points.

    First on the issue that hot-spot owners must secure their own access point: Yes, it is the responsibility of the operators to secure their access point as much as it is one’s responsibility to drive safely. Some establishments offer Wifi access without even having the competency to administer their service; they usually rely of pre-installed setups offered by the dealers. The owners are just interested on driving customers to their establishment but is not concerned on the quality and security of these service which of course affects the safety of the Wifi users (oh well, they are free anyway. right?). These hot-spot owners are compared to people buying a car but doesn’t know how to properly drive.

    If we are going to debate on “if war driving is illegal or not” then I would only say: Internet is public. period. As long as you network is accessible thru the Internet then it is public, this is the founding concept of the Internet and its never meant to have locks and keys on the first place. But due to the demand of corporations to monetize the use information thru the Internet, the locks were placed and only because of these locks we could differentiate between the public Internet and the private/corporate ones.

    This brings me to the issue, hot spot licensing. Since hot-spot owners provide these services to the public then they must kept in check to ensure user’s “public safety” (those who prey of the unsecured users and those who uses the Wifi access to commit fraudulent acts on the Internet knowing they can be traced easily). If you need to know how vulnerable Wifi users are against attack then check this little demo done during the Defcon 12 at http://www.evilscheme.org/defcon/. Anyway these Wifi accesses are not free at all in the truest sense; since these are value added services; the cost of the service is actually paid in part by each customer as they buy the products offered by the establishment. Therefore the owners must be obligated to provide a quality service. On how these measures are to be implemented, I leave this to the experts on laws and licensing (maybe the NTC would be interested).

    Posted also on: http://corruptedpartition.blogspot.com/2006/04/is-wifi-war-driving-unethicalillegal.html

  • ppdolina

    i think it’s unethical as buying pirated software but without the legistlation to punish those who pilfer open WAPs without the admin’s permission it isnt explicitly illegal.

    that’s what we get by having legistlators who arent that well read.

  • Wardriving…

    While Living in Seattle, WA USA (AKA CyberCity), wardriving seemed to be Obsolete, for these reasons:

    1) Many Places have Free Wi-Fi Hotspots
    2) Many People are securing their Wi-Fi Networks

    Here in the Philippines, Robinson’s Galleria has so-called Free Wi-Fi access, however, the past few times I tried to use it, it was down. I just told my wife, it seems someone’s infected Windows disrupted the DHCP server of the free wireless service.

    I access Wi-Fi using my Apple iBook G4, Nokia 770 Linux-based Internet Terminal, and my Palm TX.

    Since the cost of Internet here in Philippines is more expensive than it is in the USA, *most* people will secure their Wi-Fi network with either WEP or WPA.

    In Wardriving, an Open Wi-Fi network is symbolized by ‘O’. Most Wardrivers will skip a secured Wi-Fi network. I’ve searched for Open Wi-Fi networks in Metro Manila area, and have little results.

    A disadvantage to wardriving… Your computer hardware is Sniffable! That means, other people can detect your computer and capture ALL data to & from your computer.

  • bob

    Hello guys, if you want to get some info and prices about wifi hardware, such as hotspots, detectors and antennas, you may want to check this portal out: http://www.quickandeasywifi.com

  • I think that if there is no WEP or any sort of protection then it is the owners falt that someone is useing it, but just as long as they don’t do anything Black hatish.


  • teh

    I bought a linksys wrt54g, flashed it with a 3rd party firmware, and now I use it as a powerful wireless adapter. I can connect to networks that a wifi card wont even detect. It’s fast too. DD-WRT is nice!

  • Jim

    Hi all!

    I recently installed a Netgear WGR614 wifi router to my SmartBro connection. I haven’t been able to turn on the network security parameters as I configured it manually bypassing the ususal CD-based set up process (the CD wasn’t working).

    I’ve tried getting online resources from Netgear but have been unsuccessful in getting relevant info.

    Can anybody enlighten me? Appreciate the help.


  • Holsten

    well that will save a hacker 15 or 20 mins it WOULD have taken him to hack your network

  • Dash

    I would say that the act of wardriving is not unethical, illegal or immoral- it is the simple act of seeking information akin to surfing the web.

    It is the actions you perform with the information you have obtained that determine what it is.

    That said, let’s give a hypothetical situation:

    You are traveling from BFE to Somewhere, but you stop in Next to Nowhere. Bored and waiting for your squirrels to be fed, you cruise around looking for someplace that has internet access. You find with wardriving: Community library, Charbucks, McD’s, several of the community local cafe places that might be viable for a meal.

    All with open, some pay as you go, internet. Was wardriving a bad thing? Or should you get out at each and every location and check the sticker on the door or go ask if they have wifi (assuming you are not shy)?

    Just my 3.1415926535 cents of input.

  • Dash

    and next time I will check the dates on the messages XD sorry to resurrect a dead thread…