Man faces felony charge for alleged wireless network theft

| 7/8/2005

A man in Florida faces some of the first-ever charges for stealing … air?

On April 20, Benjamin Smith III was arrested after police found him sitting in his SUV outside the home of Richard Dinon, allegedly using Dinon’s wireless computer network from his laptop without permission.

Smith will face a pretrial hearing this month for a felony charge of unauthorized access to a computer network under Florida statute 815.06. The statute makes it a third-degree felony for someone who “willingly, knowingly, and without authorization accesses … any computer, computer system or computer network.”

The case is one of the first in the nation to address the illegal use of a non-public wireless network. Special Agent Bob Breeden of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told the St. Petersburg Times that no data or statistics have been kept on this type of crime.

However, Breeden said the practice is probably very common, albeit rarely reported. Most wireless networks can be secured from unauthorized use by adding a password and/or encryption, but many home users don’t turn on the features, leaving the network vulnerable to anyone nearby with a wireless connection in their computers.