Law and ethics are often both considerations when determining the reaction to a computer security incident. For instance, scanning for open wireless networks is not illegal unless the scanner connects to the network without permission. Discuss this issue in terms of the legal and ethical issues that surround using a wireless connection that you do not own.

Wireless network scanning is not unlawful, and the ethics should be determined by the intent of the individual doing the scanning. For instance, if the person is scanning the network to identify unsecured wireless access points or access points with weak encryption protocols like WEP so they can conduct an attack to gain unauthorized access it would clearly be unethical. Tools like aircrack-ng allow hackers to identify access points, obfuscate themselves, promiscuously collect packets and crack WEP keys and WPA passwords.

There is an argument that piggybacking on open wifi access points (APs) in not unethical. Those who argue this perspective state that some APs are intentionally left open so identifying wifi piggybacking on any open AP as unethical would be an incorrect assessment. Those who argue the unethical position state that it is unethical to cheat the ISP out of their revenue. There is the case of the man who was charged with a crime for using a cafe’s wifi by sitting outside and piggybacking from his car; this was deemed unlawful because the free wifi was intended for patrons, which he was not. I think the reality is that it’s hard to know if an open AP was left open intentionally or unintentionally, services like WiGLE provide data regarding “free” wif access points. With regards to the argument that it’s stealing from the ISP thus unethical, I would need to look at the ISPs terms of service. I know of many coffee shops who have residential class Internet service and provide “free” wifi to their patrons so it would seem that sharing you ISP connection via wifi is not illegal or unethical. We live in a connected world, and I think jumping on an open wifi AP has become a way of life thus moral intent is important when deciding if this behavior is ethical or unethical. No doubt this is a topic which is open to debate.


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