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Leaking Wireless Internet Connections

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manavmehta
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Yes, some people don't know what the scary thing on top of their computers do, and the installation guy from the store said locking it down would cost extra. But that's not up to the standard of a defense.

It doesn't take a lot of common sense to figure out that, if you know the wireless network's there and you can access the wireless network simply by turning on a computer, then anybody else can do the same.

Edited by y_feldblum
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DavidOdden has it right. Unsecured wireless networks must be assumed to have been made available to the public. That is the way the technology works, and is the normal implication of wireless networks advertising themselves to every wireless-enabled device.

Wireless networks secured with any kind of authorization scheme must be assumed to be private. An authorization scheme is the equivalent of a "private property: no trespassing" sign. The lack of such a scheme is the equivalent of the lack of such a sign. Such schemes are perfectly simple to put into place, just as such signs are.

Should a person not authorized to share his internet connection fail to set up an authorization scheme for his wireless network, and should others use his internet connection via the unsecured wireless network, then he is responsible for breach of contract, not those others.

So my neighbor's always leaving the gate to his pool open.Actually, there isn't even a gate but a pathway up their over manicured side of the house that leads to the back of the poo where the waterfall is. There isn't a sign at all other than to say "welcome to our ool, note, there's no p in it and let's keep it that way." I know they work nights so is it wrong for me to borrow their pool. I'm leaving it in the exact same shape I found it and he really wouldn't have any idea I would have used it other than maybe feeling the compulsive need to finally clean up all those dang cans he has laying around.

I'm absolutely not trying to be a smart alec here. This is a very real example of a real life situation I face. An ungated but somewhat hidden pool that looks oh so nice and inviting on the hot and sticky summers we get here in Houston.

I just don't see the difference morally. Just because he hasn't posted a sign saying specifically "don't steal this", the moral default can not be "if there isn't a sign saying don't steal it's okey dokey to do it."

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This is wrong.  It is not trivial for the average Joe Blow Internet user to secure a wireless connection.  They are lucky if they can get connected to an unsecured one themselves.  In most cases, they don't even have any idea that others can use their wide-open access points.  I deal with this issue all time in our tech support.

In fact, when I find and tell people during site visits that others are connected to their access points, they are most often shocked and then angry that their neighbors would take advantage of them.  I then proceed to lock it down for them.

If they only knew how to put up the "no trespassing sign", every single one that I've talked to would have.  Based on this, I think it is appropriate to assume that wireless networks found in the wild are not meant to be public unless they are explicitly advertised as such in other media (print/radio/signage/etc), and that the other arguments presented here are rationalization for getting away with tresspassing and theft.

I find myself agreeing with you again Tom. I just found my owners manual to the AT&T 6800G wireless router that I have. For those not familiar with these, (chances are you aren't because these are REALLY at the bottom of the dog heap when it comes to cheap routers under $20 w/o rebate). This one you can't even mod an antenna to it. It's hardwired in and so the signal strength can't be boosted without some soldering or breaking down and buying a decent Linksys. Literally every single page of this manual talks about securing and setting up your connection. In fact, you have to NOT follow the simple IKEA like directions to leave your net unsecure.

Still, I will agree that the average end user of most things technological are stupid. I don't mean that they are dumb per se but they actively play the part of the technophobe that just can't get it but it's actually fear of something new and laziness masked by technopobia. I deal with it hours every day doing tech support at work. Otherwise intelligent people not even being able to type the own first name in without handholding.

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Can you quote the terms in your customer service agreement which specifically prohibits having a "leaky" wireless? Or are you saying that you'd terminate the service under the "can terminate without cause" clause? I can't find anything that specifically addresses that with my ISP, so I'm wondering how widespread such restrictions are in the business.

The important thing to remember is that in this case, the thief (in fact: contract violator) is the customer and not the third party. A person using wireless has an obligation to secure their connection. If a wireless connection is available, since you cannot (easily) tell where it comes from, and it is reasonable to assume that the connection is being (justly) provided for free to anyone interested in using it, you have the right to use that connection. If there were sufficient reason to assume that the connection is not being provided for anyone who wants to use it, then you might be able to make an argument that a person should go door-to-door looking for the source to ask permission to use it.

It's the same reason that my rental agreement on my house specifically says I have to lock all the entrances at all times and not allow people access to the house wihtout specific authorization from either the tenant or the owner. That prevents me from turning the place into a flop house of sorts where people come and go all day long. That sort of behavioure would hurt the value of the house because it means people aren't treating the property with respect and it also attracts unsavory types in the long run.

Plus on the wireless front, leaving your net open keeps you open for lawsuits. All it takes is the kid next door piggybacking and downloading porn/movies/music etc. When the MPAA looks at those IP logs, you are the one whose going to show up on the suit. And that is not good.

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It's the same reason that my rental agreement on my house specifically says I have to lock all the entrances at all times and not allow people access to the house wihtout specific authorization from either the tenant or the owner. That prevents me from turning the place into a flop house of sorts where people come and go all day long.
Since you seem to be arguing for a version of the "using free wireless is wrong" postion, I can't entirely reconcile what you just said with the bigger picture. This argues that the box-owner has the responsibility to lock his box if he wants it locked, just as I have argued. There is no analogy between homes and wireless routers. A man's home is his castle, by very long-standing tradition, and that right is statutorily recognised in the codes of all civilized societies (except perhaps England, which has problems with actually writing this kind of stuff down). On the other hand, there is no such no-trespassing tradition for wireless, and indeed the opposite tradition prevails, that any unsecured wireless connection is freely offered to anyone who wants to use it (just as any unsecured web page is implicitly available for free viewing). If you don't like that tradition, you need to do two things. First, you need to change the social context so that there is no presumption of permission to use, just as if you wanted to justify shooting a person for crossing your property line to knock on your door you would need to change the conventions in the unmarked case, governing where trespassing begins (property line, not house). Second, you need to persuade manufacturers to ship boxes in a default locked-down state, requiring overt action by the user to make them useable. Before anyone brings out an "unreasonable burden" argument (if anyone were so inclined), with wireless being the way it is right now, it would also impose an unreasonable burden on the provider of the free service to obligate him to directly inform possible users that they have his permission to use the connection. Somebody has to take responsibility for their lives, and it's the guy who owns the box and has the sole right to configure it, and thus control internet access though his property.
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On the other hand, there is no such no-trespassing tradition for wireless, and indeed the opposite tradition prevails, that any unsecured wireless connection is freely offered to anyone who wants to use it

This is pure fantasy. I never lived in a world where such a "tradition" existed. Is this on this planet somewhere? Do you mean "tradition amongst people who know how to easily tresspass and rationalize it"? Or you really think that "tradition" exists among the typical Joe Blow Internet user at large? Speaking from the position of a networking professional who owns an ISP, I can say you are sadly mistaken if you think the latter, and I'm almost certain that my contact with the general Internet user population is a much broader cross-section of the population than yours.

(just as any unsecured web page is implicitly available for free viewing)

Except that web sites are put up for the purpose of having others view them. Wireless networks are generally put up for the purpose of creating a personal wireless LAN with no intent of having others use it.

Somebody has to take responsibility for their lives, and it's the guy who owns the box and has the sole right to configure it, and thus control internet access though his property.

Yes, they have to take responsbility, just as they should be responsible and lock the front door. That doesn't mean if they forget that its an open license for you to walk in and watch their TV.

Edited by TomL
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Again, the purpose of this post is not to say that using an oipen wireless connection is wrong. Rather, it is insufficient to say: it is okay because I feel no guilt about it.

I agree. I am sorry if this point was not clear in my post. My intention was not to say that it is sufficient to check how an action affects your self-esteem. My intention was only to state that in a scenario where no party seems to be hurt, the one party that could be hurt which you may miss noticing is yourself!

My second intention was to state that there is no rational basis for condemning an action as immoral unless you can demonstrate that it hurts someone, which includes the perpetrator!

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Yes, they have to take responsbility, just as they should be responsible and lock the front door.  That doesn't mean if they forget that its an open license for you to walk in and watch their TV.

I agree with you, Tom. Thanks a lot for clearing this up for me. By my standard of morality (the "who is hurt?" standard, which I would like to think, is any rational man's standard!), piggybacking on an unsecured wireless connection is wrong, unethical, immoral (any way you want to put it), unless you know for a fact that it has been purposely left unsecured by the wireless service provider with the intention of sharing, or that the end user has left it unsecured and that the end user's contract allows him to share his connection.

The reason piggybacking on an unintentionally unsecured wireless connection is wrong is because it causes two kinds of damage - financial i.e. loss of business to the wireless service provider, and service quality related i.e. the end user may be refused a connection which he would have got if some piggybacking joe was not piggybacking on someone else's connection.

It is irrelevant to argue in this case that you can't be sure the connection wasn't intended to be free. Since there is some damage being done, you need to be sure in such a case that the connection was intended to be public, and that you are therefore not causing damage before you go ahead using the connection.

Edited by manavmehta
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This is almost right, but not quite.

The reason its wrong is that a wireless LAN is someone's private property -- they bought the router and set it up for their own use. They have the rights of use & disposal for that LAN, no one else. It is not up to you to try to figure out if they meant for it to be public or not. Unless there is an explicit declaration by the owner that is open to the public, then it is not -- even if you are certain that no one is being injured because (for the sake of example) you know their upstream Internet connection is free and no one is home to use the connection.

They set the terms for use of their property, and if you don't know the terms you must assume that it is off limits. This goes for any kind of property and is the only way to maintain true property rights. It sends us all down a slippery slope to use the "who is injured?" standard as a basis for property rights.

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This is almost right, but not quite.

The reason its wrong is that a wireless LAN is someone's private property...

They set the terms for use of their property, and if you don't know the terms you must assume that it is off limits.  This goes for any kind of property and is the only way to maintain true property rights.  It sends us all down a slippery slope to use the "who is injured?" standard as a basis for property rights.

You are right. I completely missed the property rights aspect of the issue.

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Since you seem to be arguing for a version of the "using free wireless is wrong" postion, I can't entirely reconcile what you just said with the bigger picture. This argues that the box-owner has the responsibility to lock his box if he wants it locked, just as I have argued.

Free wireless per se isn't okey dokey in my book, I used it after work while eating coffee and dinner. But I had the permission, and that would be explicit permission, of the owner.

You seem to be taking the argument that as long as nobody explicityly says it's wrong it's ok to do whatever.

There is no analogy between homes and wireless routers.
My property is my property whether it's my house, my car, the mulch pile in the back, or a pen I laid down on my desk.

A man's home is his castle, by very long-standing tradition, and that right is statutorily recognised in the codes of all civilized societies (except perhaps England, which has problems with actually writing this kind of stuff down). On the other hand, there isno such no-trespassing tradition for wireless, and indeed the opposite tradition prevails, that any unsecured wireless connection is freely offered to anyone who wants to use it

Some places have a tradition of letting you have sex with kids. So if I visit Thailand it's ok to visit kid hookers until I become an anti-prostitution pamphleteer to change "prevailing traditions"?

Second, you need to persuade manufacturers to ship boxes in a default locked-down state, requiring overt action by the user to make them useable.
Cars don't ship from the factory with alarms. So are they also free game? Sure they have locks but then they don't lock by default when you close the doors thereby leaving them wide open.

Somebody has to take responsibility for their lives, and it's the guy who owns the box and has the sole right to configure it, and thus control internet access though his property.

So if someone is negligent in unsecuring their property it's free game. True story, I forgot to lock the front door. Someone could come in and watch CNBC and surf the internet all night at no cost to me. Since the door wasn't locked and there wasn't a sign stating hours or to not come on in and make yourself at home.

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I have a final question for Scott and Tom, who have advocated the absolute-right position, where context is irrelevant. Would you agree, then, that if a person trespasses on my property by stepping off of communally-owned public property (the sidewalk in front of my house) and approaches my front porch, that they have committed the crime of trespassing? In Colorado, for example, that means that I have the right to kill anyone who happens to touch your property. What I am trying to find out is whether you reject the scienter requirement for moral condemnation. And, Tom, I ask you respectfully, if you do not think that killing a person for touching your property is an absolute right, could you explain why (or whether) you would claim that is not a "pure fantasy", as you have accused me of engaging in. If you feel uncomforable about giving serious answers to these questions in public, please feel free to ignore my questions. I will not pursue the matter further.

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I have a final question for Scott and Tom, who have advocated the absolute-right position, where context is irrelevant.

If you mean, that somehow context is relevant to whether a person has a right to the use & disposal of his own property, then I'll agree that context is not relevant. If you mean that somehow I would then throw context out the window in deciding what recourse to take about someone who did tresspass or steal from me, then I'll reject that conclusion out of hand, as I have made no statements at all with regard to punishment other than the cessation of service (as an injured ISP party).

Would you agree, then, that if a person trespasses on my property by stepping off of communally-owned public property (the sidewalk in front of my house) and approaches my front porch, that they have committed the crime of trespassing?

If you want to maintain a fair analogy, then coming off the sidewalk and approaching the front door is the same as ESSID discovery (browsing for available wireless networks). It is entirely reasonable for someone to be able to discover the contents and limits of their environment. Actually connecting to a wireless network is a dfferent matter; the equivalent in the house analogy is opening the front door, walking inside, and making yourself at home without the homeowner's permission.

What I am trying to find out is whether you reject the scienter requirement for moral condemnation.
Are you now going to assert that people who leach off of open wireless connections without consent do so without knowing they are doing it?

And, Tom, I ask you respectfully, if you do not think that killing a person for touching your property is an absolute right, could you explain why (or whether)

Killing someone can only be done if your life or the life of someone else is in jeopardy. I don't see how someone stepping off the sidewalk onto your front lawn, or stealing Internet access from your unsecured access point constitutes an imment threat of death.

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Would you agree, then, that if a person trespasses on my property by stepping off of communally-owned public property (the sidewalk in front of my house) and approaches my front porch, that they have committed the crime of trespassing?

Touching my property, coming up to my front door (that is assuming I don't have a gate blocking entrance) then obviously no. I am looking at 5 networks (2 including mine that are locked) at this moment. I can sniff to find out what brand router they are using if it doesn't say it but I've never actually accessed their bandwith. Just looking and seeing that someone else's property is available isn't violating that property. If I start using that property for my use without their permission then that pretty much is the definition of conversion.

However, conversion is not limited to theft: conversion can also be accomplished by moving, transferring, discarding, hiding, vandalizing, or destroying another person's chattel. Merely using another person's chattel can be grounds for conversion in certain cases.
Please note the specificity of MERELY USING....

Nobody in their right mind would suggest killing or using physical force to stop piggybacking. Nobody's life is at threat. It's a simple tort and needs to be dealt with in a civil procedure.

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I have realized mainly from Tom's posts that this issue is at a cross between two branches of philosophy - Ethics and Politics. Ethics because it involves violating someone's rights and actually doing them damage. Politics, because one of the proper rights of man recognized by objectivism is the right to property. And this right is one of the bases for any true free state. The United States recognizes the right of property, but successive governments have been systematically eroding this right. The reason property rights are important are because they are the only basis by which an individual can be allowed to keep and enjoy the products of his mind.

The question that comes to my mind now is -- can any action be classified as ethically moral or neutral, but politically criminal i.e. what if we had come to the conclusion that using an unsecured wireless connection does damage to no one, not even in terms of bandwidth or financial losses (hypothetically speaking), but we still regarded it as wrong because it is a violation of property rights? Would we then say that using an unsecured connection is ethically neutral but politically wrong? Do such actions even exist in reality? A good example of such an action perhaps would be using someone's pool in their backyard without their knowledge, and subsequently cleaning it and leaving it just as you found it.

A corollary of this question then is -- does a person committing such an action deserve moral condemnation?

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Do such actions even exist in reality? A good example of such an action perhaps would be using someone's pool in their backyard without their knowledge, and subsequently cleaning it and leaving it just as you found it.

A corollary of this question then is -- does a person committing such an action deserve moral condemnation?

Easy answer: did you have permission to do that. If no then it's conversion even if you improve the situation it's still theft. I could use my neighbors pool which as I menitoned before has no gate. Even if I cleaned up the perpetual beer cans on his deck using the pool without his permission is a tort.

I believe some of the same logic that David is using is the same logic so called White Hack hackers that penetrate "open" computers and networks, poke around, don't reallly steal anything or remove information, they just look around and then tell the admins that they have a problem. That's no different than someone coming into David's house while he's not there, leaving him a note saying the house was left unlocked and to be nice guys we cleaned up your living room and re-organized your bookselfs and corrected some Bantu gramatical errors in his research.

No matter how nice they may be, they are using, entering, or otherwise getting benefit from anothers chattel and real property. That's not right morally.

I attended a lecture on the ethics of emergencys about where a person breaks the window of a burning car after an accident and cutting them out without their permission is morally acceptable. But that is the ethics of an emergency situation where life and limb are in genuine peril. Also, you are gaining no benefit and are indeed putting yourself at risk.

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The crucial disagreement between the two major positions in this thread can be summed up by the disagreement about the answer to a single question.

Does an open WiFi connection demonstrate a willingness of the owner to allow others to use it?

The "use it" side says: "Yes, it does".

The "do not" side says: "No it does not".

Is this the crucial difference, or am I missing some other issue that divides the two viewpoints?

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The "use it" side says: "nothing is demonstrated by lack of action on the part of the owner in this context; therefore, resort to the default standard, which is: use it".

The crucial question is - and this is a question of law, not of ethics - what is the default standard: is permission implicit and must denial of permission be explicit, or vice versa?

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The crucial disagreement between the two major positions in this thread can be summed up by the disagreement about the answer to a single question.

Does an open WiFi connection demonstrate a willingness of the owner to allow others to use it?

The "use it" side says: "Yes, it does".

The "do not" side says: "No it does not".

Is this the crucial difference, or am I missing some other issue that divides the two viewpoints?

Yes that about boils down the argument between the two views. But as I pointed out, just because you forget to lock your door or you have a doggie door flap that isn't lockable, then you don't automatically give up your property rights to whomever walks by and want to use your property on a whim.

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The "use it" side says: "nothing is demonstrated by lack of action on the part of the owner in this context; therefore, resort to the default standard, which is: use it".

The crucial question is - and this is a question of law, not of ethics - what is the default standard: is permission implicit and must denial of permission be explicit, or vice versa?

With few exceptions permission has to be explicit. Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of conversion as well as a good discussion of what tresspass to chattels is. Some places allow theft by conversion to become a legal confiscation if they feel property is "abandoned." This is the whole idea behind the so called squatters rights movement that tries to let people steal homes that have sat vacant for a while.

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The "use it" side says: "nothing is demonstrated by lack of action on the part of the owner in this context; therefore, resort to the default standard, which is: use it".

The crucial question is - and this is a question of law, not of ethics - what is the default standard...

And would the ethical question be similar: "what can I (the actor) assume?"

If Mr. Manake, my neighbour, meets me and tells me "I have this new wireless network. I wonder if any stranger will use it; but, I do not care". Then it's ethically fine to use it.

If, instead, Mr. Manake, meets me and says: "I have this new wireless network. I spent the afternoon securing it so that nobody can get in." Then, that evening my computer picks up an open network called "MANAKE_FAMILY". Legally, I can use it, ethically I cannot.

Correct?

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Ethically, do not violate the property-owner's rights. If the property-owner has explicitly given permission, or if the law codifies a standard up to which permission is implicit and the property-owner has not explicitly denied permission, you may ethically use the property.

The crucial question is, what is the legal standard, if one exists, in the case of open wireless networks (which broadcast invitations to use them)?

In the case of Mr. Manake, in the first case, ethics and law permit use, and in the second case, ethics and law forbid use. In both cases, Mr. Manake has explicitly given or denied permission.

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... in the second case, ethics and law forbid use. In both cases, Mr. Manake has explicitly given or denied permission.

My mistake, you're right. Legally too, one could not use thwe connection if you had specific reason to believe permission was being denied.
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  • 11 months later...

I think the question is not really whether someone put a sign for "free use" or not.

It is rather: Does the owner of the wireless access point have the RIGHT to allow others to use it, even with his own consent?

I think what you pay the internet provider for is PROVIDING THE SERVICES TO YOU, not someone else. If someone else used the connection, he would infringe upon the property rights of the internet provider. Anyone else but you should make his own arrangements with the internet provider to acquire the right to use the service.

By making a contract with your internet provider, you are bying the right to use it alone. However, if you provide your connection to others not included in the contract, you are causing losses to the company, you are depriving him of gaining profit from would-be customers.

Also, it is not the responsibility of a customer to shield himself from external use. If you drop your property on a public park bench, it is still your property, and no one has the right to it. Same goes for your internet connection. The one who detects an undetected connection and surfs the net with it is using a) the technology of a device (acces point) that belongs to someone else, and B) the service provided for someone else that you didn't pay for. If you say making yourproperty accessible is to be understood as giving up your property, then that woudl be ok as for your notebook.

But if making your internet connection accessible wirelessly to everyone should, by convention, be understood as saying "I am allowing you to use my connection to surf the net", then you are breaking the contract you have made with your provider.

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Does the owner of the wireless access point have the RIGHT to allow others to use it, even with his own consent?

I think what you pay the internet provider for is PROVIDING THE SERVICES TO YOU, not someone else.

Well this is a matter of fact, not opinion. As the person with the wireless system, you really do need to look at the terms of service, because it's stated in the contract. A general rule of thumb is that if an ISP also provides wireless in an area, they obviously will not tolerate a customer competing with them by providing cheaper or free service. Read the fine print.
If someone else used the connection, he would infringe upon the property rights of the internet provider.
Under such a case, there is an infringement but it is by the wireless provider and not the laptop guy, because the laptop guy has no agreement at all with the ISP. This is a privity of contract issue -- I cannot make an agreement with X which binds you, and you yourself have to make an agreement with X in order to have a duty to X.
By making a contract with your internet provider, you are bying the right to use it alone. However, if you provide your connection to others not included in the contract, you are causing losses to the company, you are depriving him of gaining profit from would-be customers.
Again, assuming that you have an "exclusive home use" contract, then by transmitting an unsecured signal you are violating the contract (possibly explicitly).
Also, it is not the responsibility of a customer to shield himself from external use.
But it is: only the wireless owner knows the terms of the agreement, is bound by those terms, and has the right or even physical ability to control his wireless router.

The flaw in your argument is the assumption that there is a universal requirement between all ISPs and their customers which declares that you must not allow non-personal use of the service. There is no such universal agreement, which is why there can be such a thing as a hotspot -- this is a very important bit of context that you're dropping. Now that could change if the government were to decide to regulate ISPs, and they may at some time in the future impose specific requirements on router manufacturerers and ISPs so that routers are locked down with mandatory WPA2 and can only be unlocked by the ISP in case general use is allowed by the terms of service. In the meantime, the free market and technology has established a protocol for signalling the customer's intention, namely the freedom to encrypt or not. By not encrypting your signal, you are implicitly permitting others to use it.

There's an analog in the form of the No Trespassing sign. Strangers are implicitly allowed a certain limited access to property (the walkway up to the front porch, basically) which explains why it's okay to go to a stranger's house and ask for directions if you're lost, or to ask for assistance if you are injured. But an explicit No Trespassing sign negates the assumption of this right. So if you do not want people using your wireless connection, put up the sign.

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