Free ProblemsI have just learned that stealing sharing a wireless internet connection with your neighbors (who either generously or naively leave their network visible and unprotected by any sort of encryption scheme) is all fun and games until something goes wrong and you can no longer connect to the internet, at which point the fun and games turn pretty unequivocally into the seventh level of hell. I have no idea what's gone wrong, but as of about 11 a.m. when I installed the latest and greatest Apple software update (the Airport Card Upgrade 3.4.3, I believe), I can't connect to the internet from home at all. My computer will connect to a network, but then it tells me that it has a "self-assigned IP address and can't connect to the internet." Great. Thanks. And worse, the computer doesn't even see the third network that was previously most reliable. Perhaps it's time to break down and pay for DSL... Oh, and since this issue really does appear to have been caused by, or is at least related to, an Apple software upgrade, all of you who have just been waiting to mock my Mac self-righteousness should feel free to do so now. ;-)
Posted September 6, 2004 03:28 PM | mac geek
Technically, if that software update is preventing people from stealing, then it's not really a failure on Apple's part.
Posted by: Phil at September 6, 2004 10:39 PM
Ah yes, but what, really, is being taken? Why don't we have blanket coverage of wireless access subsidized by the public for the public to use? That would be a good thing, wouldn't it?
Turns out, the internet outage didn't have anything to do w/Apple's software update. At least I don't think so. I unstalled the update and replaced it w/the old drivers, and still nothing. A few hours later, everything started working again, so I'm guessing someone just unplugged their router or something and didn't turn it back on for a while...
Posted by: ambimb at September 6, 2004 11:09 PM
Why don't you ask the person whose network it is if they mind you using it? That way, you don't have to live in the ethically ambiguous zone you're in.
Posted by: Anon at September 7, 2004 01:05 AM
It's not quite ethically ambiguous. They're paying, you're not, and you're both getting the services. Thus, you are not doing the correct thing. However, I would do the same thing in your situation. :) (What can you do? If you offer to split the fees with them, they may get suspicious or something, or perhaps sue you for using their connection before. I mean, your argument that no one is being harmed is fine, but that doesn't mean that I can go swimming in a rich person's pool just because they're not using it. Dare I say that this is an ambivalent imb...?)
We don't have blanket coverage because that would not serve a large majority of the taxpaying public. It would be a good thing, but it would be a better thing if everyone had healthcare, too, so we should spend our money on something like that first.
But, since you asked, check this out:
Posted by: Phil at September 7, 2004 01:57 AM
I too must express my displeasure with stealing another's bandwith.
It is not the ethical thing to do.
Posted by: Jeremy at September 7, 2004 09:58 AM
Jeremy: I agree with you, but what is ai to do?
Posted by: Phil at September 7, 2004 11:00 AM
Props to all the ethical peeps of the world. I'm happy to pay for a connection, but the details are this: Our landlord lives upstairs and has a cable modem w/wireless router. When we signed our lease, we asked if we could share his 'net access, and we offered to split the cost w/him. However, he pays all our utilities (gas, electric, water, cable), and I guess he figures the internet is kind of like a utility so he said we could use his connection if the signal filtered down to the basement and he wouldn't charge us any extra for that. However, he also said that if the signal *didn't* reach the basement and we needed to incur some extra cost to make it do so, then we'd be responsible for that cost.
Also, landlord said his own network often doesn't work as well in certain parts of his house as do various other networks in the neighborhood. These networks have been set up by neighbors known to landlord, and landlord said the neighbors had all discussed this and agreed that sharing connections in this way was fine, so landlord also said he didn't think it would matter what connection we used -- if there was a live wireless connection in the basement apt., he gave us permission to use it.
Long story short, we moved in, opened up the laptop, the wireless card connected to a network, we were thrilled. And it worked fine until yesterday, when it didn't. We can't tell exactly who pays for the network we're connected to (when we can connect), but I'm guessing a call to our landlord might answer that question. That would enable us to verify w/that person (if it's not our landlord) that it's ok that we use the connection, and to offer to pay for the privilege. Would this be more ethical, or would it just raise other questions? For example, if we're using our neighbor's connection, and they ask us to pay $10/month for that use, would they then be violating the terms of their agreement w/their service provider by reselling their internet connection? I don't know.
The only way I know to be fully responsible for my own connection is to get a DSL connection of our own (we can't get our own cable connection w/out hassling w/the landlord's account, which... why bother?). If problems continue, that's probably what we'll do. Meanwhile, I'm curious what arguments people have for and against the proposition that this use of a neighbor's or landlord's wireless network is not ethical.
Oh, and like Phil says: What's really the best course of action in a situation like this?
Posted by: ambimb at September 7, 2004 11:14 AM
Here's what ai should do.
I would approach the neighbor and say
I just bought some wireless networking equipment with the intention of creating a wireless network for my computers and getting a broadband connection (Neighbor doesn't need to know if there is only one computer, or getting cable/dsl is really in the picture). When I was configuring the equipment, it picked up your network, and even used the internet for a little bit. Did you know that you're network is open? I suggest that we close your network to listening for other computers, split the fees for your dsl access, and make the network more secure. Doing banking or any credit card transactions on a wireless network is perilous at best, on an unencrypted one it's foolhardy.
SSL encryption does not prevent the credit card #'s, accounts, passwords, et. all from being read (in plain text) when the information is travelling between the Wireless access point and the client computer.
On a related note. I wouldn't use an open network in an apartment complex for fear of it being a honeypot to collect information. I wouldn't ever use an open network for anything other than browsing.
My personal Wlan is encrypted, and also only excepts known MAC addresses. It takes some effort, but it's worth it.
Posted by: Jonathan Link at September 7, 2004 11:15 AM
You give good advice. The more secure one can make his/her network, the safter his/her information will be. Plugging a wireless router and using its default settings is a terrible idea. One needs to harden the network.
Ethically, I think one should be aware what the agreement says between the original purchaser and the service provider. One should not violate this agreement. I also think one should never use a another's network without permission. If both prongs are satisfied, surf away!
Posted by: Jeremy at September 7, 2004 05:16 PM
I, though I have been arguing that the act of using an open network that others pay for and do not know you use is an unethical act, would choose to do the unethical thing if in your situation. Honestly, all the proposed solutions seem over-complicated and worthless, since you then ask some previously unrelated party to get involved (is it ethical to waste someone's time so you can feel better about your actions?), and you ask them to act unethically in relation to the ISP. Essentially, you've just asked them to shoulder some burden for your convenience. And it's not like splitting the cost of the service will help them in any relevant way, since they've been paying for it for a while anyway. I must be honest and say that I would choose to continue in this course of action, though I would admit to myself that this is not exactly ethical, and also deny all knowledge of the setup.
Posted by: Phil at September 7, 2004 11:28 PM
Thanks everyone for the feedback. I'm basically w/Phil, since everything's working again, and our landlord gave us permission to use his internet connection or the connections of his neighbors (which he apparently also uses). But all you smart people who know how to steal info as it travels between my computer and the router, please stay far far away from my connection. Thanks! ;-)
Posted by: ambimb at September 8, 2004 07:41 AM
Well, there are a lot of smart people who don't read your blog, and won't have any problem lifting your information! :-)
Wardriving in large cities is common. If you don't harden your network now, you will, later.
Be aleart for any chalked signs on sidewalks, streets or buildings. These are marks left by wardrivers for them to come back to later, to access an unsecured wlan. The encryption is simple to setup, and is a minimal step that should be taken. Denying all but specific MAC addresses just conserves your bandwidth because it doesn't let anyone else outside your household become the free rider.
If you have a portable, take it for a drive, and see if you can spot other wlans (let your friend drive!) in residential areas.
Posted by: Jonathan Link at September 8, 2004 09:18 AM
Tha winnah! And the top comment count of this journal so far!
Posted by: Phil at September 10, 2004 03:43 AM
so you're using what someone else is paying for. but doesn't that happen with a lot of things? like someone paid to plant a tree like 50 years ago, and today you can sit under it. cool.
i don't see the big problem with using someone else's wireless, especially if your landlord said you could. if the owner doesn't want you to use it, then they should be smart enough to protect their network.
Posted by: monica at September 12, 2004 02:45 PM