A man and his wife in Buffalo, New York are awakened when federal agents break down their door and storm in throwing the husband to the floor and aiming guns at them. The agents had tracked the homeowners IP address; an IP address that was used to download child pornography. The innocent man was actually a victim of theft. The homeowner had tried unsuccessfully to put a password on his wireless router and now someone else has used it for illegal information, and is now looking for an ESOP Lawyer.
During the morning of the arrest, investigation agents tapped away at the homeowner's desktop computer, eventually taking it with them, along with his and his wife's iPads and iPhones. Within three days, investigators determined the homeowner was innocent. If someone was downloading child pornography through his wireless signal, it wasn't him. About a week later, agents arrested a 25-year-old neighbor, screen name “Doldrum”, and charged him with distribution of child pornography. The case is pending in federal court.
Another man in Sarasota, Florida received a similar visit from the FBI last year after someone on a boat docked in a marina outside his building used a potato chip can as an antenna to boost his wireless signal and download an astounding 10 million images of child porn, or the North Syracuse, New York, man who in December 2009 opened his door to police who'd been following an electronic trail of illegal videos and images. The man's neighbor pleaded guilty April 12.
For the Buffalo man, he later got an apology from U.S. Attorney William Hochul and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Lev Kubiak for the invasion into his home and wrongful accusations. But this wasn't a case of officers rushing into the wrong house. Court filings show exactly what led them there and why.
On February, 11, an investigator with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees cybersecurity enforcement, signed in to a peer-to-peer file sharing program from his office. After connecting with someone by the name of "Doldrum," the agent browsed through his shared files for videos and images and found images and videos depicting children engaged in sexual acts. The agent identified the IP address, or unique identification number, of the router, then got the service provider to identify the subscriber. Investigators did not take the extra step before going inside the house to see whether there was an unsecured signal. That alone wouldn't have exonerated the homeowner, but it would have raised the possibility that someone else was responsible for the downloads.
After a search of his devices proved the homeowner's innocence, investigators went back to the peer-to-peer software and looked at logs that showed what other IP addresses Doldrum had connected from. Two were associated with the State University of New York at Buffalo and accessed using a secure token that UB said was assigned to a student living in an apartment adjacent to the homeowner. Agents arrested John Luchetti March 17. He has pleaded not guilty to distribution of child pornography.
Luchetti is not charged with using his neighbor's Wi-Fi without permission. Whether it was illegal is up for debate. The question is whether it's unauthorized if the wireless point is open and unprotected.
In Germany, the country's top criminal court ruled last year that Internet users must secure their wireless connections to prevent others from illegally downloading data. The court said Internet users could be fined up to $126 if a third party takes advantage of their unprotected line, though it stopped short of holding the users responsible for illegal content downloaded by the third party. The ruling came after a musician sued an Internet user whose wireless connection was used to download a song, which was then offered on an online file sharing network. The user was on vacation when the song was downloaded.
It's unknown how often unsecured routers have brought legal trouble for subscribers. Besides the criminal investigations, the Internet is full of anecdotal accounts of people who've had to fight accusations of illegally downloading music or movies. Unfortunately, even if you are not guilty you look like you are because the activity is linked back to your router. Experts say that this is just one of many reasons to secure home routers.
Experts say the more savvy hackers can go beyond just connecting to the Internet on the host's dime and monitor Internet activity and steal passwords or other sensitive information. A study released in February provides a sense of how often computer users rely on the generosity - or technological shortcomings - of their neighbors to gain Internet access.
The poll conducted for the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry group that promotes wireless technology standards, found that among 1,054 Americans age 18 and older, 32 percent acknowledged trying to access a Wi-Fi network that wasn't theirs. An estimated 201 million households worldwide use Wi-Fi networks, according to the alliance.
For some, though, leaving their wireless router open to outside use is a philosophical decision, a way of returning the favor for the times they've hopped on to someone else's network to check e-mail or download directions while away from home . These people feel letting the public use their Wi-Fi is for the common good.
The government's Computer Emergency Readiness Team recommends home users make their networks invisible to others by disabling the identifier broadcasting function that allows wireless access points to announce their presence. It also advises users to replace any default network names or passwords, since those are widely known, and to keep an eye on the manufacturer's website for security patches or updates.
People who keep an open wireless router won't necessarily know when someone else is piggybacking on the signal, which usually reaches 300-400 feet, though a slower connection may be a clue.
Although it may take extra time to read through your wireless routers manual, or Used Cisco Switches manual, it is highly recommended to make the effort to protect yourself by using passcodes.