ISP: Wi-Fi test shows flaw in file-sharing crackdown

ISP: Wi-Fi test shows flaw in file-sharing crackdown

Summary: TalkTalk says its street-level Wi-Fi hacking test shows proposals to disconnect unlawful file-sharers could end up affecting innocent people

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TalkTalk has criticised the government's proposals to cut off broadband service for unlawful file-sharers, after conducting a street-level test that found a high proportion of household Wi-Fi connections are vulnerable to hacking.

In a blog post on Thursday, TalkTalk executive director of strategy and regulation Andrew Heaney gave details of how a TalkTalk security expert visited a road in Stanmore, Middlesex, to gauge how many houses were using either unsecured Wi-Fi or the WEP encryption protocol, a weak form of encryption.

The test found that out of 68 Wi-Fi connections, 23 were open to hacking. Six percent of the total were unsecured, while 28 percent used WEP.

"To show how vulnerable people are to unauthorised file-sharing, our expert downloaded legal music files from two connections, including Barry Manilow's hit Mandy and the soundtrack from the 1992 film Peter's Friends," wrote Heaney.

The ISP said the experiment suggested millions of people are at risk of having their connections hijacked by hackers for the purposes of illegal file-sharing. Those millions are therefore also at risk of having their internet service cut, should government proposals to deal with suspected unauthorised file-sharers be carried through, as it would appear they had breached copyright, TalkTalk said.

Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) proposed in August that those accused of illegal file-sharing be disconnected. The proposal contradicted advice given in Lord Carter's June Digital Britain report, which said cutting off services would be too harsh a measure.

"The Mandelson scheme is wrong-headed and naïve," TalkTalk's Heaney wrote. "The lack of presumption of innocence and the absence of judicial process, combined with the prevalence of Wi-Fi hijacking, will result in innocent people being disconnected."

The ISP also said the government's proposals would encourage illicit file-sharers to hack Wi-Fi networks, to avoid their own connection being cut off.

The TalkTalk criticism came as an influential government committee also raised objection to the government plans. The All Party Parliamentary Communications Group (apComms) wrote in a report on Thursday that illegal file-sharers should not have their broadband cut off.

"Much of the problem with illegal sharing of copyrighted material has been caused by the rights holders, and the music industry in particular, being far too slow in getting its act together and making popular legal alternatives available," said the report. "Future policy... should not include the disconnection of end users, because this is not in the slightest bit consistent with policies that attempt to promote e-government."

A BIS spokesperson said in an email statement on Friday that the government would only suspend unauthorised file-sharers if notification and "targeted legal action" had not been effective.

"It is important to emphasise that we still believe the notification system backed with court action will prove the most effective way to bring about the reduction in file-sharing we want to see," said the BIS spokesperson.

"We are a long way from introducing suspension and, even if we did, it would only be used as a last resort against the worst and most persistent offenders."

Topics: Government UK, Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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Talkback

17 comments
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  • Yup spot on..

    Absolutely spot on INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty mandelson!

    Tell you what would be funny to see, some one hack he's family WIFI connection and conduct a load of illegal file sharing, then see what he says.
    CA-aba1d
  • Pointless and inneffective

    The Mandelson proposal to disconnect a broadband from an illegal downloader is, apart from being yet more political interference in our lives, absolutely pointless as serious downloaders can easily go elsewhere (McDonalds, Wetherspoon, etc or one of the many unprotected networks that abound) and download to their hearts content.
    Mandelson keep out of this and allow the complainants to take any needed action in a Court.
    hampshirehog
  • The horse has bolted

    The action that should have been taken, when file sharing was in it's infancy, was to target the suppliers and facilitators of files to be shared, rather than the 'consumer'. Their actions surely were illegal under any kind of regime, without resorting to any new legislation, and if not, legislation could have been quickly enough passed.

    This, as I understand it, is also now the preferred method of dealing with another intransigent problem - drugs.

    There is, and never was, any moral justification for wholesale file sharing. I'm not a Troll, I just do not like being subject to ever more restrictive (draconian) regimes as a result of certain other people's bad behaviour. Not only file sharing, of course, and not only on the internet (e.g. I.D. Cards, 'Vet and Bar' etc. etc. etc.).
    The Former Moley
  • Most people are crooks if given half a chance

    Thats just the reality of human nature dishonesty. I think what will happen in the end if you will need some sort of Internet Access License in the same way you need one to drive a car.

    The burden will be on you to proof you are access the Internet safely and legally. Think that would be a terrible world not as bad as one where intellectualy property rights arent enforced
    mrjonno
  • are you joking?

    You want a class based system for the net? don't you think class systems have caused enough damage to this world already.
    CA-aba1d
  • Very serious

    You don't allow anyone onto a public highway even they may be safe. You are assumed not to be safe until you can prove otherwise and even then you can loose that license.

    Why should the Internet be any different, a pirate can cause a loss of revenue costing millions.

    I really don't think people understand how important Intellectual Property rights are they are certainly more important than unrestricted Internet access
    mrjonno
  • Flawed analogy

    The reasoning you use is somewhat flawed. Comparing it with driving would mean removing the road rather than an idividuals drivng licence. Equally your analogy would mean that where a drug smuggler was caught then the aircraft/ferry should be removed.
    The ideal is for media providers to make their product to sell at a very low price, thus negating the desire to download pirate copies. This would result in far fewer millionaires in the entertainment industry.
    hampshirehog
  • Not really

    Nowhere near as important as the right to fair trial. This is wide open to abuse.

    Besides, 'Intellectual Property' is a very new concept, and benefits only large faceless corporations.
    Tezzer-5cae2
  • Re: Flawed Analogy

    I think you got it wrong. The Internet is not removed - only the right to use it, the same as the loss of driving licence leads the loss of the ability to drive on the roads.

    Nevertheless, there is a moral issue here, and in many aspects of today's society. Namely that the wrong doing minority are setting the agenda for all of us; i.e. a state controlled, heavily regulated and totally invasive Orwellian society. So we all suffer a loss of freedom, a loss of freedom of choice and a loss of privacy. Not good.

    All this because people are loosing their moral compass, honesty, integrity and consideration for others. Worst case scenario - a broken society.

    Ironically, It is the same advances in Technology which facilitate much of the wrong doing that will also be used to control us all; and we all know what control freaks this government are already. As a final point, this all changes the balance between presumed innocence and assumed guilt.

    However, in the specific case of improper file sharing, the subject of this thread, we must be assured that it is dealt with on a correct legal basis and not on a vigilante basis. Actually, that applies elsewhere too.
    The Former Moley
  • Only punishment can really stop theft

    No one will pay for anything if they think they can get it for free without being punished.

    If a new music album was 1p it would still be pirated. If you go into a TV shop the staff automatically assume you are a potential criminal out to steal. Thats why their are staff there in the first place. If the shop didnt employ any I'm sure they could sell the product for cheaper (helping the customer is secondary) but that shop would be empty within a day.

    If you travel on an aircraft you are automatically treated as a potential terrorist.

    They are plenty of times in life when you are assumed to be guilty until proven otherwise you simply can't run a business or an airport on the basis that most people are honest/not carrying a bomb
    mrjonno
  • Wrong!

    You certainly don't speak for me.

    If I was so minded I could easily take very high value electronic equipment without the slightest chance of discovery. I don't do it, and see no possibility that I ever would. If I want something, I pay for it.
    Tezzer-5cae2
  • Re: Only punishment can really stop theft

    (Paragraphs 1 & 2) What a sad indictment on society as a whole. Is there no hope for us?

    (Paragraphs 3 & 4) Your comments somewhat reinforce what I was saying. I remember a time when one could just walk onto a plane without all the security checks (I was well travelled in my work).

    In an earlier Talkback in this thread, I did suggest that the primary target should be those making music, video etc. available for sharing, or those facilitating such for sharing.

    Tezzer, thanks for your comment. At least one decent citizen left.
    The Former Moley
  • ip isn't just about large corporations.

    A few years ago a college professor wrote a program to share between colleges. Microsoft got wind of it, got a copy, and applied for a patent, without changing any code. The professor had to spend several thousand dollars, but in the end prevailed and MS did not get their patent. The patent is now in the hands of the professor.
    ator1940
  • If only 1 in a 1000 people steal

    If only 1 in a 1000 people steal you have to assume everyone does, I personally think its far higher more like 999 in a 1000 but it doesnt really matter. That 1 in 1000 makes means security measures have to be taken.

    Don't know what is so terrible that it takes punishment to enforce good behaviour thats basic biology. It doesnt neccessarily have to be prison sentences or fines it can be simply being outcastfrom society but its the way its always been
    mrjonno
  • Is there a particular point you disagree with?

    Or is this a scientific observation on my planet of origin?
    mrjonno
  • .....

    Completely disagree with everything you have said mrjonno, and I can't be bothered arguing about it.
    CA-aba1d
  • Shades of Hitler

    I agree with you CA. mrjonno's very onesided and dictatorial attitude and opinions need Nick Griffin and his BNP to gain power, an obvious government to adopt such fascist powers.
    hampshirehog