Florida, USA. Worcestershire, UK. Toronto, Canada. London. These are just some of the places where cases of Wi-Fi theft have been reported. In these and other places, the plot is the same: People using other people’s open Wi-Fi network to have some fun in doing a misdemeanor, or to enter into transactions that are illegal or socially taboo.
At the center of the crimes are open Wi-Fi networks that reach areas well beyond the offices and homes that actually pay for them which is to say, all Wi-Fi networks. A newspaper from an area where such crimes have occurred, reports that a random drive along a street with an open laptop will yield 14 access points for wireless networks. Many people whose Wi-Fi networks are being stolen don’t even know what’s going on with their networks.
The offenders are people who are on the lookout for open wireless networks and use these to traffic in child pornography, steal people’s credit cards, send death threats, and use other people’s money to buy sex toys and various goods on the internet. Those who were apprehended for trafficking in child or adult pornography usually do their crimes inside their vehicles.
The Wi-Fi felons are often confident that they will not be arrested for their crime, because the use of the technology provides near anonymity. By the time the police steps in and make an investigation, the hacker will be nowhere in sight, having already left the scene of the crime.
These factors have contributed to the emergence of a phenomenon known as war-driving, which traces its roots to Matthew Broderick’s film WarGames. In that film, Broderick’s character uses a computer to call hundreds of phone numbers to find computer dial-ups.
War-driving is the practice of looking for insecure networks. While some do it for the thrill and some to make money by for example helping out households to turn off the open network it is prone to be used for illegal transactions. Some war-drivers even mark homes or offices with a red light to show others where a network can be accessed.
Another crime-phenomenon that emerged in connection with the spread of Wi-Fi networks is the evil twin attack: A person with a laptop will overwhelm the Wi-Fi network in an area say a coffee shop or a conference hall and monitor the internet use of unsuspecting netizens who connect to the person’s network. He or she can also spread viruses through this.
Often, owners of Wi-Fi networks that get stolen do not spend time to secure their networks, or lack information as to how to secure these. There are some who are too trusting of their neighbors, while others don’t even know that their networks reach beyond the walls of their homes and offices.