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Tracing the source of a hot spot.

N/A

Tracing the source of a hot spot.

Hi.
I know little about wireless connections etc.
A friend with a Wi Fi enabled laptop, visited a friend of his to help sort out his friends cheap s/h laptop. Set it up with a dial up modem etc.
Whilst he was demonstrating internet settings on his own m/c, it automatically picked up a Wi Fi connection. He logged on using his own settings, and for about 2 hours they were surfing the net. This in a rural country village.
According to his friends, their nearby neighbours did not have any wireless routers, and no hotels or pubs are anywhere near.
Is there any way of finding the source of the 'hot spot'? Other than by knocking on doors and asking.
My friend is very curious as to where the connection is coming from.
And what is the situation if the connection is used. Is it an offence if the signal is freely available?
TIA.
Mike.
4 REPLIES
Community Veteran
Posts: 4,729
Registered: 04-04-2007

Tracing the source of a hot spot.

To use a wireless network without the owners’ consent is theft.

As for finding the location, you would need to map out the area of coverage by taking your laptop for a walk; this should give an indication of where the Access Point is located.

Chilly
N/A

Tracing the source of a hot spot.

I thaught it might be theft, but then I remembered reading some time ago, about chalk marks on pavements etc, to indicate hot spots.
I couldn't recall anything in the article saying it was illegal.
Thanks for the reply.
Mike.
Community Veteran
Posts: 2,909
Thanks: 168
Fixes: 3
Registered: 05-04-2007

Tracing the source of a hot spot.

It's pretty pointless trying to find who owns the AP - it highly unlikely they are going to be pleased to find out you have used it.

I think this brings an interesting legal argument though. At what point does it become theft (hence eligible for prosecution). I seem to remember a case in the US where someone was prosecuted for driving around in a laptop and using open AP's. There is obviously evidence for this (i.e. someone with the same MAC address connecting to various AP's down the same street). Also I guess if you were to say run software to crack WEP (not that I've tried but many have said this is extremely easy), you can argue the person intentionally was stealing from someone else's service.

However I remember being in a bar in London and they advertised they had a free access point. Great I thought and used it with my PDA fine. I wonder how intent could be proved. Since Windows works similar to mobile phones when roaming in that respect (finds any signal and automatically uses it), technically I could just switch a laptop on - it might automatically find an open AP and start using it. Programs such as the automatic update facility of an anti-virus scanner, would detect there was a connection and start downloading. In this case no action has been performed by someone, technically that is illegal as well but how would that work when someone has just switched a laptop on?

You could argue that by using an open AP you had no way of knowing it was free and open to public use. Obviously if you went around in a car there is a case - but going back to the bar in London (which was public) say if someone was using a laptop near a town centre. How would they know if it had connected to a neighbours AP (non-public), or to a public one. The only clue is possibly the SSID, but even that is not conclusive and the PC might connect automatically anyway without a chance for you to review what it is.

I can see a case like this coming up in the near future, and I think it is definitely a grey area.
pixgunnill
Dabbler
Posts: 19
Registered: 30-07-2007

Tracing the source of a hot spot.

Apple Mac computers can use a piece of software called Macstumbler. This helps you locate a WiFi signal. ( Windows have the same software but called something else! ). Also I use a WiFi key fob, Pc World etc., this locates WiFi signals. I use <unknown signals> sometimes,like last Wednesday picked up one in Palma Airport close to Hire Car Desk. I asked if I could use and pay for the "service", but they replied it wasn't a problem for them.Sometimes working to deadlines, unknown signals really help, but like many others I am not too sure about the legal points.