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Innocent Home Owners Suffer Due to Crimes Committed on their Open WiFi

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 (8:03 am) - Score 2,190

The Scottish Government’s “Cyber Integrator” (cybercrime tzar), Keith McDevitt, has warned home owners to close their open wifi networks (wireless) after finding that an increasing number of cyber criminals, such as Internet paedophiles, were using them to commit offences that ISPs often trace back to innocent broadband users.

The issue of home wifi security is not a new one and has been raised on a number of occasions. One of the better known examples of this problem emanated from the Digital Economy Act (DEAct) debate, which warned that Internet pirates could share unlawful content using open or shared wifi networks and that this could potentially result in the bill payer being disconnected by their ISP (e.g. hotel chains, libraries, public wifi cafes etc.).

Since then the situation has improved, which is largely thanks to better awareness of the risks and broadband ISPs bundling routers that come with a decent level of default security (e.g. WPA2 encryption enabled by default with a random key). Never the less you can still find open wifi networks around and the recent epidemic of router security woes (here, here and here) is another reminder that nothing is ever 100% secure.

Keith McDevitt said (Daily Record):

If your wireless network is not protected with a password, it is an open invitation for cyber criminals to hide their appalling activities behind you. This is something that can and does happen and it’s not a pleasant experience for the innocent parties involved when police investigating serious crimes arrive at their address.

There is a danger that a team of officers will come in your door and seize not only your family’s computers, phones and tablets, but also your TV if it is connected to the internet. Often the investigation can take several weeks and even if nothing is found and the person involved is cleared, there will be a suspicion that lingers on.”

McDevitt goes on to describe an example where it emerged that part of a paedophile ring had used an insecure home network of somebody else to upload some truly horrific content to the Internet. Naturally the innocent individual involved did not have a good few months and this is a prime example of why everybody should be careful about their wifi security.

On the other hand it can be a lot harder to tackle situations where a public or shared wifi service is being offered, such as via libraries, cafes, restaurants, hotels and over business networks. The abuser could use all sorts of tricks to mask who they are on those networks and it would be nearly impossible to identify them, yet it’s still the innocent bill payer whom ultimately ends up suffering.

However the recent home router security failings have also shown that no security is perfect and a hacker can still break into systems that might otherwise appear to be secure. But if this happens the home owner could perhaps end up looking even guiltier than had they just left their wifi network open in the first place, which offers a defence.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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5 Responses
  1. Avatar RevK

    What? The home owner is not committing any offence in such cases. The threat of *INCORRECT* action by police to seize computers is not a reason to change behaviour. Indeed, forcing a change in behaviour based on such a threat is the VERY DEFINITION OF TERRORISM. It is terrorism BY THE POLICE. I thought we had laws to try and clamp down on terrorism – where is the law stopping police theratening innocent people?

  2. I think that might be an extrapolation too far. The security official is suggesting people use better security on their home networks to help protect themselves from criminals and hackers, which seems sensible enough, although his second paragraph certainly makes liberal use of FuD.

    • Avatar Hypocrite State

      Nope RevK is right. If your Credit Card gets stolen or worse cloned without you knowing and a crook goes on a spending spree or uses the funds for naughty deeds you do not blame the victim. Your Internet connection is no (or should be no) different.

      What next are we going to blame the victims of Identity theft for criminal activity?

      Calling it terrorism from our state is perhaps going a bit too far but it certainly is close to fascism. I am not shocked, the likes of our government be it Camerloon and the consumer party or the Luddite party in charge before him, like to rule by instigating fear in our population. While at the same time blabbering on about the lack of rights and terrible things that go on in other countries.

      Then again maybe it is terrorism as we and our American buddies seem to be the only countries left on the planet that like to randomly go and attack those weaker than us be it abroad or citizens at home.

  3. Avatar dragoneast

    The authorities have always been heavy-handed (and ham-fisted) throughout history. Nothing new there. The other constant truth is that the only one you can trust to protect yourself, is yourself. Self-help is good, selfishness isn’t. Can any of us tell the difference, though?

  4. Avatar aidian

    This is ridiculous — having a police officials telling people not to operate open wifi networks because otherwise they’ll fall under suspicion. It’s not the public’s job to change its behavoir just to make the police’s job easier.

    I operate an open wi-fi network — the AP is segregated from my LAN and is QOS’d so it doesn’t interfere with my traffic. I consider it a public service, the sort of thing decent people do for their community.

    The issue here is that the standards for police to come raid someone are too low, not that wifi security is.

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