It's a common practice that seems like
generosity, but could lead to your home being invaded by federal agents.
Recent cases underscore the dangerous nature of having
an unsecured Wi-Fi router.
I. A Rude Awakening
On March 7 at 6:30 a.m. a resident of Buffalo, New
York received the scare of a lifetime. With a thunderous crash his front
door was broken, awaking the man and his wife. Putting a robe on and
rushing downstairs he saw federal agents wearing a strange acronym I-C-E (which
he would later discover stood for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
An ICE agent charged the stairs, hurling him down
it, leaving him cut and bruised. The man's lawyer, Barry Covert, recalls
the agents screamed at him, "Get down! Get down on the ground!", to
which the man screamed back, "Who are you? Who are you?"
Armed with assault weapons the agents began to
hurl slurs at the injured suspect that gave him the first inclination of what
was going on. "Pedophile!" and "pornographer!" they
He dressed at gunpoint in the bathroom and was
escorted to an interrogation room at a government facility. Agents
accused him of using the name "Doldrum" and downloading pornographic
The man was flabbergasted.
He recalls the agent grilling him, stating,
"We know who you are! You downloaded thousands of images at 11:30 last
He recalls arguing, "No, I didn't. Somebody
else could have but I didn't do anything like that."
Unconvinced an agent sneered at him, "You're
a creep ... just admit it."
II. You've Got the Wrong Man!
Only he wasn't a creep.
After having his family's laptops, iPads, and
iPhones seized, federal agents would later conclude that the man was right --
he had no stash of child porn. However, they would later discover that
his 25-year-old neighbor who was accessing the man's Wi-Fi was downloading
explicit videos and images.
That neighbor, John Luchetti, was arrested
The irony is that if police had conducted a more
thorough initial investigation they likely would have had a far different
encounter with the first man. Mr. Luchetti was tracked down because
"Doldrum" also accessed two internet protocol (IP) addresses at State University of New York at Buffalo using a
secure token. When the university revealed the student's identity,
federal agents realized that the true "Doldrum" was a man living in
an apartment complex very close to their original suspect.
To be fair, Mr. Luchetti himself has pleaded not
guilty to the distribution of child pornography.
The case was a tough one because in theory the
feds could have done everything right in gaining
warranted entry in the original suspect's home. The feds began their
investigation on February 11 when they received peer-to-peer file transfers
from "Doldrum" and grabbed the IP address.
They tracked the IP downloading the files to that
address, thanks to cooperation from the internet service provider. So in
theory, the homeowner could have been the primary suspect.
On the other hand, as mentioned,
"Doldrum" also connected from other IPs and a thorough investigation
would have revealed that.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul and Immigration and
Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Lev Kubiak reportedly have
apologized to the homeowner.
Amazingly, in today's era of "fast-food
lawsuits" the homeowner is not suing the government. He just wants
to share his story with the media as a warning to other homeowners and to
pressure federal agents to be more thorough in their searches.
III. Unsecured Wi-Fi: Not Uncommon
According to a study conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf
of the Wi-Fi Alliance, approximately 32
percent of adults have used someone's unsecured Wi-Fi connection without their
knowledge or permission. The study, which polled 1,054 Americans age
18 and older, also estimates that America has 201 million Wi-Fi
Ironically 40 percent of people said they were
more likely to give their house key to someone than their Wi-Fi key. The
admission illustrates the dichotomy between those with some knowledge of
security and those who fail to understand the repercussions of leaving your
virtual door open.
Some understand the risks and willing open their
Rebecca Jeschke, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San
Francisco-based nonprofit that takes on cyberspace civil liberties issues
argues that people shouldn't be afraid to leave their networks unsecure.
interview with the Associate Press, she states, "I think it's
convenient and polite to have an open Wi-Fi network. Public Wi-Fi is for
the common good and I'm happy to participate in that — and lots of people
a professor at George Washington
University Law School, disagrees. He states, "[Whether you're
guilty of downloads on open networks] you look like the suspect."
He adds that accessing open networks without
permission is a legal gray area today. He explains, "The question is
whether it's unauthorized access and so you have to say, 'Is an open wireless
point implicitly authorizing users or not? We don't know. The law
prohibits unauthorized access and it's just not clear what's authorized with an
open unsecured wireless."
The Federal government for its part argues that
homeowners shouldn't leave their networks open. The Computer Emergency Readiness Team -- a
federal organization -- suggests users disable their networks from broadcasting
their presence. They also suggest that users change the default passwords
(which are widely known) and keep their routers patched (to prevent exploits).
At the end of the day, though, many users won't have the knowledge and
skills to follow through on such suggestions.
It's also important to consider that there are
ways to break into most consumer "secured" network routers, as well.
Having password-protected encrypted traffic is no guarantee that your
connection is completely safe from savvy cyber-miscreants.
However, it's perhaps best not to make things easy
for abusers by leaving your connection wide open.
Stories of bad experiences are mounting.
A Sarasota, Fla. man had a cybersquatter download tens of thousands
of child porn images from his marina's network by boosting his signal using a
potato chip can. And in North Syracuse, N.Y. a man this spring was
greeted by authorities who suspected he was downloading child porn. It
turned out it was his neighbor, who was arrested April 12.
Aside from law enforcement and child porn,
thousands have received
threats from the Recording Industry Association of America and
other industry groups for infringed copyrighted materials that were downloaded
over their connection. Some of these individuals were forced into payouts
totaling thousands of dollars.
The issue of open networks and how law enforcement
should deal with them is an issue that seems certain to only grow as time