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Sniffing open WiFi may be wiretapping judge tells Google
NetworkWorld ^ | 7/1/11

Posted on 07/02/2011 12:13:03 AM PDT by LibWhacker

A federal judge ruled that Google can be sued for wiretapping after sniffing open Wi-Fi in Wi-Spy privacy lawsuit about wardriving Street View vehicles.

Looks like Google Street View cars may have been "officially" riding dirty and Google may get slapped hard for its Wi-Spy fiasco. A federal judge did not dismiss the case against Google; instead in the first such decision of its kind, the judge ruled that sniffing open Wi-Fi packets might violate the Federal Wiretap Act.

Remember when intelligence gathering ability was allegedly "going dark" due to the masses moving to VoIP like Skype and the feds had wanted CALEA to require a backdoor so law enforcement can intercept online encrypted communication? Microsoft's "Legal Intercept" patent to monitor VoIP may be the easy-access eavesdropping the feds were hoping for, but it also wasn't too long ago when the FBI was seeking Google's help in wiretapping. It's doubtful the kind of wiretapping help the FBI wanted would have included when the Internet search giant intercepted packets on non-password-protected Wi-Fi networks. But now Google may be legally liable for wiretapping in regards to the 600GB "payload" of MAC addresses, usernames, emails, passwords and other "private" data gobbled up by Street View mapping vehicles.

U.S. District Judge James Ware ruled, [PDF] "The court finds that plaintiffs plead facts sufficient to state a claim for violation of the Wiretap Act. In particular, plaintiffs plead that defendant intentionally created, approved of, and installed specially-designed software and technology into its Google Street View vehicles and used this technology to intercept plaintiffs' data packets, arguably electronic communications, from plaintiffs' personal Wi-Fi networks. Further, plaintiffs plead that the data packets were transmitted over Wi-Fi networks that were configured such that the packets were not readable by the general public without the use of sophisticated packet-sniffer technology."

Although Google argued the data was "readily accessible to the general public," because the networks "were 'open' and 'unencrypted'" and should not then qualify as a wiretapping violation, Judge Ware called that claim "misplaced." This case is important on many levels as it may determine if sniffing open Wi-Fi packets constitutes wiretapping. Sniffing open, unencrypted Wi-Fi is hardly rocket science these days; even the truly clueless can master automated tools like Firesheep and FaceNiff. Whether you leave your wireless network open and unencrypted, or sometimes use such a wireless network at a coffee shop, we should all be paying attention to this to find out if we could be sued for wiretapping.

Google had first claimed it didn't realize it was wardriving, sniffing and snarfing up data on unsecured Wi-Fi networks in about a dozen countries. Then it claimed the Street View car debacle was a mistake and apologized. Now Google claims the lawsuit is "without merit" as it argued that open Wi-Fi networks were like "radio communications." Since the judge is not letting Google wiggle off the wiretapping hook that easily, now the company is considering appealing and is "still evaluating our options at this preliminary stage." I wonder if we'll see Street View cars rollin' or if there are too many people hatin' now?


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: open; sniffing; wifi; wiretapping
OK, so you're sitting in your car at the mall while your wife runs inside for a "couple of seconds" to pick up a few things.

To while away the hours, you flip open your laptop and begin surfing the internet's best, most awesome website, Freerepublic.com, when suddenly, nine jackbooted thugs in inpenetrable armored exoskeletons begin raining fists down on you, dragging you out of the car through the wing window (thank you Barrett-Jackson!) and haul you off to prison for 20 years.

Insanity. Is this still America?

What's next? Are they going to throw in you jail for reading a flyer left on your windshield because some merchant got peeved that you didn't buy something from him?

1 posted on 07/02/2011 12:13:07 AM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker
BS. WiFi has built-in security. All you have to do is turn it on. If you don't, then, obviously, you are providing a public access point. More power to you (until the black helicopters descend because of that email you sent to eop.gov.).
2 posted on 07/02/2011 12:22:17 AM PDT by cynwoody
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To: LibWhacker; cynwoody
Okay, so we have new technologies. If there need to be new laws, shouldn't lawmakers be making them, not judges?
3 posted on 07/02/2011 12:32:32 AM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: LibWhacker; cynwoody
Okay, so we have new technologies. If there need to be new laws, shouldn't lawmakers be making them, not judges?
4 posted on 07/02/2011 12:32:32 AM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: LibWhacker

I’m not sure Google was living up to its earlier “do no evil” motto when it was doing this. It sounds like maybe the Google vans were cracking weakly encrypted WEP connections as well as logging nonencrypted connections. I’d be pissed at that.

As for places offering free wi-fi, the ethical thing to do is patronize them, order a coffee or something while in there with your PC.


5 posted on 07/02/2011 12:37:26 AM PDT by HiTech RedNeck (Hawk)
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To: LibWhacker

Reading a ‘broadcasted’ signal into open air is hardly ‘wiretapping’.

....ENCRYPTION............

Are police scanners also “wiretapping”? Is listening to someone talking “wiretapping”?


6 posted on 07/02/2011 12:41:01 AM PDT by KoRn (Department of Homeland Security, Certified - "Right Wing Extremist")
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To: nickcarraway
Okay, so we have new technologies. If there need to be new laws, shouldn't lawmakers be making them, not judges?

For sure.

But since they haven't, one must go with common sense: failure to secure an eminently securable technology means you are offering the public a freebie.

And, far from committing a crime, anyone who creates an index of such unsecured networks creates a public good, not a crime.

Actually, all Google was trying to do was create an index linking extant WiFi networks to lat-long, in order to supplement other ways of triangulating a smart-phone. The fact that they collected some unencrypted content along the way is only of interest to Euroturds, not red-blooded Americans, enrobed in black or not. If the judge rules against Google, he's a traitor.

7 posted on 07/02/2011 12:49:47 AM PDT by cynwoody
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To: LibWhacker
If this moronic judge's decision is left standing, then each and every one of us who has ever left our wifi on for our laptops, ebook readers, cell phones or other devices are guilty of wardriving. Simply turning on your computer is wire tapping, since you'd intercept the IDs of access points in your area.

These are FCC approved transmitters broadcasting on public frequencies with FCC approved receivers. His equating listening in to an old style wireless phone line to receiving publicly broadcast data is beyond wrong, and I can't wait for this ruling to be stomped on.

8 posted on 07/02/2011 1:18:11 AM PDT by kingu (Everything starts with slashing the size and scope of the federal government.)
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To: LibWhacker

Anyone with an open wireless wifi connection should be considered to be a public broadcaster who is inviting the public to use their service. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to lock out a network.


9 posted on 07/02/2011 1:54:11 AM PDT by P-Marlowe (LPFOKETT GAHCOEEP-w/o*)
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To: KoRn

When it became illegal to receive unencrypted radio signals from cell phones a couple of decades ago that threw out long standing principle that Americans could listen to anything on the public airwaves and it was the duty of the transmitting party to secure their information.

That was a major difference between America and the rest of the world.

Not so much anymore...

Now if you listen to certain signals coming into your home on your own properly all without transmitting anything you can be found guilty of breaking the law. A line in the sand that leads to the likes of China who dictate what information is okay and not okay to listen to...

We have lost so much...

And no one really seems to care...


10 posted on 07/02/2011 2:46:24 AM PDT by DB
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To: LibWhacker

not sure but using some ones circiut to send receive is not the same as reading the data someone elses is sending and receiving.
Isnt this the issue,just like stealing some ones dial tone from a land line and making calls is not the same as monitoring those calls


11 posted on 07/02/2011 3:02:28 AM PDT by CGASMIA68
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To: LibWhacker

Very. Very, slippery slope.

Go to your network settings right now, and you’ll likely see a list of possible wifi connections in range - and whether they’re secure or not.

Are you sniffing right this very moment?...


12 posted on 07/02/2011 3:10:16 AM PDT by Cringing Negativism Network (BUY AMERICAN. The job you save will be your son's, or your daughter's)
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To: KoRn
Are police scanners also “wiretapping”? Is listening to someone talking “wiretapping”?

In some cases yes inded it is against the law. If the same laws applying to scanner monitoring apply to Google then yes they could be in serious trouble IF they are using what they pick up for commercial {economical} gain.

Also listening on a scanner you may listen all you with to most unencrypted signals. BUT some things you can not by law monitor even when analog such as cell phones and likely land lines cordless phones. Actually on scanner sold in the U.S. the cell spectrum is blocked. Being in possession of a scanner capable of monitoring cell calls made after a certain date which I can't remember and snuck into the U.S. from say Canada can get you in some bad trouble also.

Personally I have no like nor use for Google nor do I trust it. I block as much of their adware stuff as I can also. Not every thing that goes on is Googles business including what someones house looks like.

13 posted on 07/02/2011 3:51:56 AM PDT by cva66snipe (Two Choices left for U.S. One Nation Under GOD or One Nation Under Judgment? Which one say ye?)
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To: cynwoody
BS. WiFi has built-in security. All you have to do is turn it on. If you don't, then, obviously, you are providing a public access point.

By that reasoning, it should be perfectly fine for anyone to intercept and listen to your cell phone conversations.

14 posted on 07/02/2011 3:59:44 AM PDT by trebb ("If a man will not work, he should not eat" From 2 Thes 3)
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To: LibWhacker
To while away the hours, you flip open your laptop and begin surfing the internet's best, most awesome website, Freerepublic.com, when suddenly, nine jackbooted thugs in inpenetrable armored exoskeletons begin raining fists down on you, dragging you out of the car through the wing window ...

Some years ago (maybe this is still the case for all I know), in England you had to pay to listen to over-the-air TV. The TV police would go around with a van equipped with a radio direction finder, looking for the emissions from television local oscillators, and cross-checking them against a database of paid subscribers.

No subscription... a ticket. No concept of "free radio communications" there!

15 posted on 07/02/2011 4:23:41 AM PDT by Pearls Before Swine
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To: KoRn
Reading a ‘broadcasted’ signal into open air is hardly ‘wiretapping’.

Bingo. If radio had just been invented, this judge would rule it 'wiretapping' to listen.

16 posted on 07/02/2011 4:44:30 AM PDT by 6SJ7 (atlasShruggedInd = TRUE)
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To: LibWhacker

I don’t believe I’m clear on what Google did, but I do have an analogy that works for me on unprotected networks.

I’m walking down the sidewalk. Someone has left a chair sitting by the curb. I’m feeling a little tired, so I sit down for a rest.

Suddenly the police and the homeowner come screaming up and I’m arrested for breaking and entering, on the interesting theory that if the chair had been in his dining room that’s the only way I could have gotten to it.

But, of course, the whole point is that the chair wasn’t in his dining room, it was on the curb.

Moral: If you don’t want someone to sit in your chair, keep it in the dining room. If you set it out on the curb, expect others to sit down.

OTOH, if someone has even the weakest protection on their network, breaking in is IMO just as much a crime as entering a home where someone left the front door open.


17 posted on 07/02/2011 5:05:28 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: Sherman Logan; Egon

I like your analogy. Works for me.

Seems to me that plugging a wireless router-switch into your DSL or cable modem without setting up the security would be like having a 100’ cord on your telephone and putting it on an apple crate next to your lawn chair by the curb: an invitation to some to sit down and make a call, or like leaving the keys in your car in the driveway. Someone without a Midwestern sense of property might think it was a standing invitation.


18 posted on 07/02/2011 5:35:05 AM PDT by RhoTheta ("We're from the Government, and we're here to help you ... NOT")
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To: cynwoody

Exactly. By not turning on the safeguards you are tacitly permitting access and use.

The judge is hearing the case perhaps to set just such a precedent.


19 posted on 07/02/2011 5:39:15 AM PDT by bert (K.E. N.P. N.C. D.E. +12 ....( History is a process, not an event ))
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To: RhoTheta

I don’t agree with the car bit, but otherwise I think you’re spot on.


20 posted on 07/02/2011 5:42:37 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: Sherman Logan

Perhaps the analogy is that you have a rural mail box on the roadside and you left the door the open which allows someone with the latest technology to read and copy your mail without opening the envelopes.


21 posted on 07/02/2011 5:48:59 AM PDT by Raycpa
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To: Pearls Before Swine

They still have that in the UK - don’t forget to pay your telly-tax.....


22 posted on 07/02/2011 5:49:47 AM PDT by libertarian27 (Ingsoc: Dept. of Life, Dept. of Liberty and the Dept. of Happiness)
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To: Raycpa

I think the obvious conclusion is that none of our analogies are all that applicable. :)

Sometimes new technologies just don’t fit very well into existing boxes.


23 posted on 07/02/2011 5:54:00 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: Sherman Logan
Sometimes new technologies just don’t fit very well into existing boxes.

...and that's the problem. The government wants to grab all the control and revenue they can, and some suck-up corporations are glad to market the grey areas to whoever will pay them for it, be it unsecured private WiFi or valid lists of email addresses.

I certainly don't like the way the Obama FCC is trying to grab power over the Internet.

24 posted on 07/02/2011 6:04:44 AM PDT by RhoTheta ("We're from the Government, and we're here to help you ... NOT")
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To: Cringing Negativism Network
Go to your network settings right now, and you’ll likely see a list of possible wifi connections in range - and whether they’re secure or not.

And while you are there, see if your connection is one of them. If it is, get out your manual and admin your wireless router-switch to turn on your security!

25 posted on 07/02/2011 6:08:55 AM PDT by RhoTheta ("We're from the Government, and we're here to help you ... NOT")
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To: KoRn
*** Are police scanners also “wiretapping”? Is listening to someone talking “wiretapping”? ***

If it is, I'm in deep doo-doo. And so is the Website that broadcasts 'them' (multiple Fire and Police Depts in the USA to choose from) over their "Online Scanner".

I'm listening to the Chicago Police Dept right now and do every day. But interesting enough for about decade I couldn't find ANY websites that would do it. One day they were there, then wham -- all web broadcasts gone. So 'something' must have changed to make it 'legal' now.

I grew up listening to the CPD Radio Calls. First with a Vacuum Tubed Shortwave Radio back in the 50's. Then with a portable AM-FM-UHF-VHF Channel transistor radio in the late 60's and 7O's. With that I'd have to find the exact frequency for our Chi Police District, the 9th District, and that took 'patience' to find.

26 posted on 07/02/2011 6:11:39 AM PDT by Condor51 (The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits [A.Einstein])
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To: RhoTheta

Someone without a Midwestern sense of property might think it was a standing invitation.<<

Two reasons to wardrive...to look at someone elses stuff or use their bandwidth. Neither of which someone is invited to do affirmatively. Do you have the right to take something just because it’s there? If you asked them...the property owners would they say yes?

Trick question I guess. It is the difference between private property and pirate property...arrrrg!

DK


27 posted on 07/02/2011 7:44:31 AM PDT by Dark Knight
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To: LibWhacker

I would look at this as a expectation of privacy

If I expect it to be private than anyone snooping is wrong

Just because the lady down the street left a gap in her bedroom shades dose not make it legal for you to go peeking through her window


28 posted on 07/02/2011 11:10:00 AM PDT by mouser (Run the rats out its the only chance we have)
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To: LibWhacker

... you flip open your laptop and begin surfing the internet's best, most awesome website, Freerepublic.com, ...

Ahh - but the difference is that Google is purposefully acquiring and selling the data it is recovering in its wardriving. It's not considered illegal for you to listen in on on unencrypted radio - it is illegal for you to take any action, including rebroadcasting or direct profit from knowledge thus gained. That is where Google fails, IMHO.

29 posted on 07/02/2011 12:09:54 PM PDT by brityank (The more I learn about the Constitution, the more I realise this Government is UNconstitutional !!)
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To: Sherman Logan

It’s a perfect analogy. I like it.


30 posted on 07/02/2011 1:00:39 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: brityank
It isn't illegal for me to listen in on an unencrypted radio broadcast, but it is illegal for me to wiretap someone. That's what the judge seems to be saying happened here... Someone actually "wiretapped" someone else, and anyone can be convicted of that (profiteer or not) ... Federal wiretap sanctions kick in.

But it is nearly impossible to tell from a newspaper account of the ruling.

Clearly, if someone decrypts a wifi broadcast, or otherwise deliberately frustrates the owner's attempt to secure the connection, that's dodgy as hell and should be prosecuted. But the judge rather pointedly says sniffing an open connection can also constitute an act of wiretapping.

31 posted on 07/02/2011 2:06:42 PM PDT by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker
It isn't illegal for me to listen in on an unencrypted radio broadcast, but it is illegal for me to wiretap someone. That's what the judge seems to be saying happened here...

And here is another instance where a lawyer is using his faulty knowledge of science and engineering to craft policy, rules, and regulations. Pretty sure that the Supreme Court and FCC have already ruled that receiving Over-The-Air broadcasts are legal, absent any other use by the receiver. Used to be that any bar or pub had their own OTA antennae and TVs without any additional payment to the local stations, but when caught snagging the early unencrypted cable signals got fined pretty heavily in addition to having to pay back the cable companies.

32 posted on 07/02/2011 5:10:38 PM PDT by brityank (The more I learn about the Constitution, the more I realise this Government is UNconstitutional !!)
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To: cynwoody

My sister has a wirless router on her computer. There’s a kid in the neighborhood who will come late at night-early morning and sit out on the porch and will use her router connection to use his blackberry internet or whatever it is. Is this the same thing? We don’t like it, because we don’t know what he’s viewing (it could be child porn for all we know) Is there something on the router to stop that?


33 posted on 07/03/2011 9:28:38 AM PDT by virgil
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To: virgil

Password protect it as far as access. If he’s downloading pirated music or videos, or worse such as child pornography, they’ll come for you first.


34 posted on 07/03/2011 9:31:14 AM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: virgil
"Is there something on the router to stop that?"

Why hasn't she enabled her security settings? And her porch isn't public property.

35 posted on 07/03/2011 9:31:20 AM PDT by Flag_This (Real presidents don't bow.)
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To: RegulatorCountry; Flag_This

She’s not very literate when it comes to internet connections, and admittedly, neither am I. Here son may be able to do it. Thanks guys.


36 posted on 07/03/2011 9:36:41 AM PDT by virgil
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To: virgil
There’s a kid in the neighborhood who will come late at night-early morning and sit out on the porch and will use her router connection ... Is there something on the router to stop that?

Yes. Point a browser at the router's configuration page. See your computer's network details for the location. Your router is at the gateway IP. Just about all routers are configured through web pages. The only exception I've seen the Apple Airport, which uses a dedicated app installed on your computer.

You'll probably need a userId and password to get into the configuration page. If you've already set one, you probably wouldn't be asking this question, so look at the manual for the factory default values (e.g., blank userid and password admin). If you've lost the manual, you can probably download it from the manufacturer's website.

Somewhere in the settings pages there should be something called WPA-Personal (older routers may have only WEP, which is not secure, but good enough to lock out the kid unless he's a real hacker). When you set WPA-Personal, you will be asked to enter a pass phrase up to 63 characters long (known as a pre-shared key).

Enter something you can easily retype but the kid will never guess. You will need to enter the same pass phrase on each computer or tablet or smartphone you want to authorize to use your wireless.

If you are really paranoid, there are other things you can do in addition. For instance, most routers will allow you to create a list of MAC addresses of authorized computers. And most will also allow you to cease publishing the name of your network (the SSID), so that hackers who don't know it exists will not notice it unless they are using special software. However, I find WPA security sufficient, and the extra inconvenience of MAC lists, etc, to be not worth the trouble.

BTW, if your router has no, or only the default, userid and password for its configuration page, you should set your own. The reason is extra insurance. If you accidentally download malware, one of the many nasty things it may do is look for your router and try to access it using the manufacturer's factory default credentials.

37 posted on 07/03/2011 3:55:23 PM PDT by cynwoody
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To: LibWhacker

Assuming we’re talking about packet sniffing, we’re talking about different levels of use. Using somebody else’s open network, is like using a telephone or electrical outlet they put on the sidewalk. I believe the “sniffing” they are talking about is that Google captures the IP packets and reads them, much like somebody adding their own extension to you telephone at the pole and listening and recording who you communicate with.


38 posted on 07/03/2011 4:04:57 PM PDT by King Moonracer (Bad lighting and cheap fabric, that's how you sell clothing.....)
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