Decades ago, John Draper (aka Captain Crunch) discovered that the plastic whistle in a box of Cap n Crunch cereal produced the 2600Hz frequency required to unlock AT&T s long-distance telephone switches. According to Silicon Valley lore, the accidental discovery allowed Draper and Steve Wozniak to phone phreak their way through the switches and place a free long-distance telephone call to the Vatican. During the 4am call, Woz is purported to have said, Is the Pope there? I m calling from California and I need to confess. Draper was jailed on two occasions for enabling these types of shenanigans since his actions clearly deprived Ma Bell of revenue. So how is phone phreaking different from poaching on your neighbor s wireless network?
The moral issues surrounding the unauthorized use of unsecured wireless networks are shrouded with gray areas. Phone phreaking is clearly theft. But is piggybacking on unsecured Wi-Fi networks really stealing? Some argue that Wi-Fi poaching is the moral equivalent of eating the scraps left by a glutton, or reading a book by the light that shines through a neighbor s window, or listening to music from a neighbor s sound system. Some say that it is no worse than removing items from a neighbor s trash bin after it has been placed on the public street for collection. Many bandwidth poachers hold the opinion that an unsecured network deserves to be used if the owner doesn t know how to secure it or doesn t care. Some poachers cling to the notion that unsecured networks are being broadcast on purpose by owners who want to share.
It might take some time before we can integrate unsecured Wi-Fi networks into our collective moral schema. However there are more immediate financial and legal arguments for why we should secure our own networks and not access unsecured networks. In case you are wondering whether wireless routers keep track of the computers that connect to them, they do. For every connection, a wireless router knows the IP address, often the MAC (Media Access Control) address, and sometimes the connected computer s name. So, given that the range of a Wi-Fi network is a finite number, it wouldn t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out which of your neighbors poaches bandwidth. If a Wi-Fi poacher accesses illegal websites or pursues illegal activity via your wireless network, you might have some explaining to do at some point in the future. If we can compare an unsecured wireless network to leaving open the door to a home, then accessing an unsecured network is similar to walking inside of the neighbor's house just because the door was open and then helping yourself to whatever you think won't be missed.
The moral arguments are still murky and the laws are various and contradictory. So let s get to the most important arguments for maintaining a secure wireless network: money and bandwidth. Some ISPs are beginning to offer a specific volume of data transfer per month and if the customer uses more than the bandwidth cap, extra charges occur. Even if you have unlimited access, it is still a good idea to secure the wireless network because every poacher is competing with you for the bandwidth and you don t want your data transfer speeds to be compromised by trespassers and thieves.
If you need to confess that you have trespassed on one of your neighbor s unsecured Wi-Fi networks, don t hack the telephone lines to the Vatican. Pay for the call and receive absolution. Go and sin no more. And if you don't already have one, buy one of these premium wireless routers or one of these wireless routers for the budget conscious.
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