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Illegal downloaders may piggyback on unsecured Wi-Fi to flout new UK laws, warns Sophos

February 2008 by Sophos

IT security and control firm Sophos is warning computer users of the importance of properly securing their Wi-Fi networks following reports that people who illegally download music and films may have their internet subscriptions cancelled. The proposed Green Paper, which the Government is due to unveil next week, will require internet service providers (ISPs) to take action against the estimated six million users a year who access pirated material.

Sophos experts note that this legislation could cause headaches for both ISPs and Wi-Fi users, as customers can claim that other people have been illegally piggybacking on their internet service. Last November, a Sophos poll of 560 computer users revealed that 54 percent have stolen Wi-Fi internet access in the past.

"Pressure is being put on ISPs to take action, but an open Wi-Fi hotspot may mean that it is you who ends up disconnected from the net while your next door neighbour is happily watching the Hollywood blockbuster they stole via your internet connection," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "People who illegally download material from the net aren’t going to have any qualms about stealing someone else’s internet connection. The widespread scale of the problem not only means that there are likely to be innocent victims, but it also gives those people who have been making illegal downloads a plausible defence."

Under a ’three-strikes’ regime, customers making illegal downloads will first receive an email warning, then a suspension of their account, and finally termination of their contract. According to reports, ISPs that fail to enforce the rules could be prosecuted and details of suspected customers passed onto the courts.

"The ISPs are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place - they are being leaned on by the movie and music industry to block pirate downloads, but at the same time they don’t want to alienate their customers by accusing them of something they didn’t do. There is no 100% solution for blocking illegal downloads which doesn’t also inconvenience the innocent."

Sophos recommends that home owners and businesses alike set up their wireless networks with security in mind, ensuring that strong encryption is in place to prevent neighbours from illegally using their internet connection, and crucially to also defend against the risks of hackers eavesdropping on communications and potentially stealing usernames, passwords and other confidential information.

"If you’re not encrypting your wireless communications, anyone close by can easily use your connection and while the intention may not always be malicious, the consequences can be severe," continued Cluley. "All internet users need to wake up to the threats and ISPs must take greater steps to educate customers about the risks and how to overcome them."

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