Thursday, June 22, 2006

KATU 2 News - Portland, Oregon

Wireless piggybacking lands man in trouble

June 21, 2006

- By Dan Tilkin
and Web Staff

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Brewed Awakenings, with its pithy name, artful drinks and wireless Internet service, has found itself unexpectedly percolating on the forefront of high-tech law.

"He doesn't buy anything," Manager Emily Pranger says about the man she ended up calling 911 about. "It's not right for him to come and use it."

Pranger says 20-year-old Alexander Eric Smith of Battle Ground sat in the parking lot in his truck for three months, spending hours at a time piggybacking on the coffee shop's wireless Internet service for free.

When deputies told Smith to knock it off, he came back and is now charged with theft of services.

"It's a repetitive occurrence and it's something that is borderline creepy," says Pranger.

As it turns out, Smith is a Level One Sex Offender, but whether he in fact committed a crime by not buying a single tall latte before accessing the Internet, well that remains to be seen. The sheriff's office and prosecutors are now reviewing the case.

Eric Gardner is a paying customer at Brewed Awakenings and he agreed to demonstrate how easy it is to pick off wireless signals.

"I can stop at a stop light and it (my laptop) may automatically log on to somebody's Internet access and check my e-mail for me," he says.

On a random neighborhood street in Vancouver, a KATU News laptop detected 11 networks, five of which were unsecured, meaning anyone could log on to them for free.

The way to protect yourself is to change your wireless router settings to only allow the computers in your home to access your airwaves.