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

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 (8:03 am) - Score 2,511
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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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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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