LONDON (Reuters) - Two people have been arrested and cautioned for using someone else’s wireless Internet connection without permission, known as “piggy-backing”, police said on Wednesday.
The practice, which sharply divides Internet users, has been fuelled by the rapid growth of fast wireless broadband in homes and people’s failure to secure their networks.
On Saturday, a man was arrested after neighbours spotted him sitting in a car outside a home in Redditch, Worcestershire, using a laptop computer to browse the Internet.
A 29-year-old woman was also arrested in a car in a similar incident in the same area last month.
Both received an official caution, a formal warning one step short of prosecution, for “dishonestly obtaining electronic communications services with intent to avoid payment”.
They were among the first to be arrested for piggy-backing in Britain. Gregory Straszkiewicz, from west London, was the first person to be convicted of the offence in 2005. He was fined 500 pounds and given a 12-month conditional discharge.
“Wireless networks don’t stop at the walls of your home,” said PC Tony Humphreys, of West Mercia Constabulary. “Without the necessary protection, your neighbours or people in the road outside may be able to connect to your network.”
There is a lively ethical debate in Internet chatrooms over whether piggy-backing is immoral or harmless.
“If it travels through the air it is open season,” wrote one contributor to a Web forum. Another wrote: “If it’s out there unsecure and I’m not trespassing, it’s fair game.”
Up to a quarter of home wireless connections are unsecured, according to a recent survey by the consumer finance Web site www.moneysupermarket.com.
Jason Lloyd, the site’s head of broadband, said it left people open to identity theft, fraud and pornography being downloaded using their account.
“The repercussions can be severe,” he said. “It’s bad enough when your neighbours can use your Internet connection freely, but this becomes far more sinister if someone uses your wireless connection for criminal activity.”
Businesses are also at risk. A survey of 320 companies by the London trade show Infosecurity Europe found that a quarter have no wireless security policy.