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Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network

'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod

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Bungling cops in Yorkshire have called upon householders to lock down their Wi-Fi after mistaking a free hotspot user for a piggybacking connection thief.

A Reg reader from Heckmondwike claims that a local busybody called the police after seeing him access the internet using BT's Fon service, which allows customers to access more than 5 million hotspots around the country. Most of these are ordinary BT residential routers which intentionally offer a service to Fon users passing by in addition to the householder.

But local cops nonetheless wrote to local residents and issued an online warning, claiming that Wi-Fi connection thieves were on the loose, intent on using other people's networks for "illegal activities and downloads".

The police letter said:

"It has been brought to the attention of Police that unsecured wireless broadband/internet access are currently being used by members of the public, particularly around the Nunroyd area of Heckmondwike."

It goes on:

Do not allow anyone connect to your wireless internet connection without your authorisation, people that connect to your network may use it for illegal activities and downloads. By changing your password this will prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network [sic] and prevent your access point from ending up on the hot spot list.

Our man in the north, who does not want to be named for fear of sparking a parochial World War III, said the police letter was definitely sparked by his (completely legitimate) Fon use. He writes:

"One particular local householder (who is known for obnoxiously flaunting the cross of St George) threw a fit after catching me reading the Register on my tablet, using a BT Fon hotspot.

"After a rant about stealing internet access, he must have phoned the police because our local plod then sent letters to all the householders advising them that someone is stealing internet access, so they should change their passwords," he added.

"Ironically, changing the password will do sweet FA to actually turn off [a Fon] hotspot, which just goes to show how thick our dear plods are. You would have hoped that the office plod in charge might just know how BT achieves the 5 million hotspots it claims.

"I hope they aren't this incompetent when it comes to stopping people who want to blow us up."

Inspector Neil Money of the Batley and Spen Neighbourhood Policing Team stuck to his guns when contacted by the Register for comment.

The good inspector said:

"I would once again repeat the advice that people follow basic security steps to protect their internet access - including password protecting the service.

"This was a general warning put out to offer residents simple security advice."

For the record, BT Fon is a "crowdsourced Wi-Fi" service which works by reserving a small portion of every BT user's Wi-Fi network capacity for use by passing roamers. Most BT internet customers get the service for free. Changing one's password will not, of course, "prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network" [sic] if they are Fon users and your router is part of the Fon service.

A BT spokesman told householders there was no danger in allowing passing folk to use BT Fon to access your network.

“Sharing a proportion of your wi-fi with Fon is safe and secure as any external usage is sent through a separate channel on your BT Home Hub meaning your activity stays private," he said. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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