WiFi piggybacking is widespread says Sophos

Research carried out by Sophos claims to show that more than 50 per cent of Netters admit they have pinched someone else's WiFi access by logging into a third party's access point without permission.

Graham Cluley, the firm's senior technology consultant, says that stealing WiFi access may feel like a victimless crime, but it deprives ISPs of revenue.

"Furthermore, if you've hopped onto your next door neighbours' wireless broadband connection to illegally download movies and music from the net, chances are that you are also slowing down their Internet access and impacting on their download limit," he said.

"For this reason, most ISPs put a clause in their contracts ordering users not to share access with neighbours - but it's very hard for them to enforce this," he added.

Hmm - I do understand Graham's comments on the legality issue, but the fact that 54 per cent of Netters admit to surfing via someone else's access point suggests to me that significantly large swathes of Internet users in the UK have broken the law.

However, the detail about ISPs putting a no-share clause in their contracts is a bit of a red herring, as this is civil contract issue, rather than a criminal one.

Furthermore, as Douglas Hurd, the former foreign secretary, once famously said in an interview with Paxo on Newsnight: "you can make walking on the cracks in the pavement illegal, but it isn't going to stop people from doing it."

I think the law is a bit behind the times with regards to innocently pinching other people's WiFi access. It's the mens rea, the intention, that really matters.

And, interestingly enough, if you look at the legal precedents relating to electronic theft, the lawyers have tended to be more interested in the intent of the defendant that his/her actual actions.

Myself, I blame the WiFi router vendors most for this silly state of affairs. If they made their routers secure on an out-of-box basis, we wouldn't have this problem...