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What is Cybercrime?

First published: 10th September 2012

A recent news report in the Hong Kong Standard suggests that Hong Kong Police are pushing the boundaries of cybercrime in an unexpected direction.

Two suspects, surnames Lui and Lam, were arrested for selling Taiwan-manufactured WiFi routers with a range of 1000 metres and are expected to be charged with "gaining access to a computer with criminal or dishonest intent". However, it is not explained what computer was accessed, and how this relates to the sale of the long-range WiFi routers. The Hong Kong Standard has not responded to a request for more information.

WiFi networking is usually limited to a distance of 100 metres, though local conditions can reduce that substantially. Longer ranges can be achieved by increasing transmission power, using a higher gain aerial or using a directional aerial and there is a wealth of information on enthusiasts' experience in setting up long range networks and building custom aerials on the internet.

The handling of the case raises many questions that are important to WiFi users in Hong Kong:

  1. If the issue is breach of the telecommunications regulations in Hong Kong, why wasn't the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) involved?
  2. Are particular types of WiFi equipment illegal? Which ones?
  3. Can you be arrested for possession of illegal WiFi equipment?
  4. Why were vendors arrested? Selling equipment is not the same as using it.
  5. The only unusual feature of the WiFi routers mentioned was the range. If the issue is the range, what is the maximum permitted range of a WiFi connection in Hong Kong?
  6. There are many public WiFi networks that are open for anyone to connect to, including GovWiFi. In the guides about connecting to these networks, there is no mention of a distance limit beyond which access is prohibited, how can users protect themselves against breaking the law when using public WiFi networks?

Updated: 24th September 2012

Police Clarification

During a telephone interview on 24th September 2012, the officer in charge of this WiFi case, Inspector Tai, DCS2, Shum Shui Po Police District gave some additional information, bearing in mind the requirements of the ongoing investigation.

The men arrested have not yet been charged, and more investigation of the many possibilities is required. The charge of "gaining access to a computer with criminal or dishonest intent" mentioned in the newspaper article is one of the many possibilities.

A device that was seized was capable of searching for WiFi networks and attempting to connect to password-protected networks. More detailed information, such as whether the device was WEP, WPA or WPA2 capable, was under investigation.

The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) was not involved in the investigation at the moment, but the Police will cooperate with other departments if necessary.

Inspector Tai could not offer general advice on choosing legal WiFi equipment and using it legally, but did comment that unauthorised access to password-protected networks was a point of interest in this case.

Updated: 15th October 2012

In a further telephone conversation, Inspector Tai communicated the Technology Crime Division's advice on WiFi, "Any person who uses WiFi equipmemt for getting unauthorised access to WiFi signal or for any other criminal purpose may be liable to prosecution under section 161 Cap 200 Crime Ordinance with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison."

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