Man Charged With Stealing Wi-Fi Signal

Man Charged With Stealing Wi-Fi Signal (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Police have arrested a man for using someone else’s wireless Internet network in one of the first criminal cases involving this fairly common practice.

Benjamin Smith III, 41, faces a pretrial hearing this month following his April arrest on charges of unauthorized access to a computer network, a third-degree felony. …

Innocuous use of other people’s unsecured Wi-Fi networks is common, though experts say that plenty of illegal use also goes undetected: such as people sneaking on others’ networks to traffic in child pornography, steal credit card information and send death threats.

Frankly, when I first glanced at this I just laughed because yesterday a friend came over with a laptop and pilfered one of my neighbors’ signal while he was here. But if someone is cutting into the bandwidth you’re paying for — let alone storing porn on your server or sifting through your files — then clearly they’re guilty of theft.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology
Leopold Stotch
About Leopold Stotch
“Dr. Leopold Stotch” was the pseudonym of political science professor then at a major research university inside the beltway. He has a PhD in International Relations. He contributed 165 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and February 2006.


  1. Mark Jaquith says:

    You can take the stuff your neighbor leaves on the curb for the garbage collector, why can’t you take the WiFi signal your neighbor is similarly “throwing away”?

    Leaving your wireless internet connection open like that is an open invitation.

    What if someone set up a website… a normal website. There is no password to access this website, so anyone can visit it and interact with it. What if the operator of that site doesn’t want people to view it? Can people who find the site be held accountable for unauthorized access to a computer network?

    It would be different if the person had set up the network had secured it and this person was breaking through. But without any protection mechanism, it’s hard to argue that the access was unauthorized.

  2. mojoala says:

    yes I agree with this comment too!

    I can drive thru any neighborhood and connect to many wireless networks.

    once that is done, getting access to any computer on that network is childsplay to the trained and/or educated.

  3. SoouthernJoe says:

    There is no excuse for not setting up a secured network. This is idiotic.

  4. Erin says:

    I have a wireless router at my apartment, so do at least 3 other people within range in the complex. My network is open as are theirs. If I can’t get through on my network for some reason (my router is being flaky for whatever reason) I will connect with one of the others….

    On the other hand, I do banking and sensitive transactions at work where I connect to a wall line.

  5. Mark J says:

    Yeah, if you ask me this is really stupid, sure it’s like stealing, but it’s also very much like leaving your garage door open and putting a sign out front saying “FREE” stuff inside. Then calling the cops to arrest someone for taking something, duH!

    As far as I am concerned if it is WIDE-OPEN then it’s fair game, however, I personally run a 802.11B but I do NOT connect it to my network, it has it’s own Private IP and firewall for both internal and ext connections, I do not see a way to set a password easily? M$ POS WIFI, however I use the encryption and DO NOT BROADCAST MY SSID duh* now this may not be perfect but if anyone took even these last 2 steps I would not attempt anything further even if i knew how. Make a reasonable effort people, it’s like shutting & Locking your doors, Society sucks thats just how it is. Is not unreasonable to do that these days. It is too bad we live in such said society, however, unless you are going to change it, live with it! If you do not want someone using it for illegal purposes then at least TRY to secure it. If they actually “Break” in fine, otherwise get a clue. This is not the 1800’s we have technology learn how to use it correctly!