How to defeat the wardriving spamlords

Unsecured wi-fi access points are the criminal's dream -- they should be made a nightmare for their owners

When it comes to sin, Los Angeles has an unparalleled record of innovation. It is entirely apt that the city has seen the first conviction for the very 21st century offence of spamming via wardriven Wi-Fi hotspots. Even the words sound like random Hollywood sci-fi gobbledegook. The crime, however, is real.

While nobody should downplay the responsibility of the perpetrator for his actions, others are implicated. People who leave their Wi-Fi hotspots open are complicit in such crimes: it's like leaving your garage open and not worrying when a crack dealer sets up a Rocks'R'Us outlet behind the Buick.

However, criminalising possession of an unencrypted wireless network is unlikely to help matters -- more laws rarely lead to less crime. In any case, no jury would convict when presented with the usability of your average access point's security settings. While some companies have been working hard to improve this -- take a bow, Intel and Linksys -- there are far too many who expect users to understand the complexities of variable-length keys, pass phrases and the like. It's like selling a gun with a Rubik's Cube for a safety catch.

The solution is to raise public awareness of the problem while simultaneously persuading the equipment manufacturers to raise their game. To that end, we propose that police cars be fitted with automatic scanners that detect unencrypted networks: the owner of the vulnerable wireless can then be given seven days to fix the problem. If they don't, then the next people calling will be the RIAA and the Business Software Association, who will give the systems attached to the network a very thorough audit for the smallest licensing or copyright violation while sitting outside in a van.

Meanwhile, people who make, import or sell equipment that doesn't default to a safe mode -- or that fails a usability evaluation -- will receive emailed examples of any spam, virus or pornography introduced to the Internet via their devices. A few hundred thousand a day should do it.

With these measures in place, wardriving will be a thing of the past – and the sleepy town of Los Angeles will once again be safe for honest street gangs to go about their business.