AQA Computer Science GCSE
Ethics - Wireless networking
Wireless networks allow users to connect any wireless enabled device to a WLAN - perhaps using a system such as Wi-Fi (you will remember from unit 5 that Wi-Fi is a protocol family - a series of protocols which allow machines to connect wirelessly to a network - and a brand name).
This has many advantages - I'm sure you can think of many of your own. On my own network, the ability to connect any device to a wireless printer makes it much easier to print and avoid an extra set of wires for me to trip over!
The ability to connect many devices to the same network without all having to be connected to a physical access point also makes it much easier to work wherever we want around the house - or in the garden.
Obviously my own wireless router is password protected using a secure (and suitably complex) password that I change regularly and I've made sure to change the default hardware passwords so that the router can't be easily hacked to allow someone to access my network (see unit 6 - cyber security).
It's worth remembering that wireless networks are always going to have slower data transfer speeds than a wired network. They are advantages of course (convenience, not having to install LAN connections etc...)
Mobile tech summary - a quick summary
Increasingly wireless "hot-spots" are available in many locations. These might be publicly owned by a city (e.g. Norwich has a public wireless network in the city centre) or a side effect of a private router - for example, BT routers have a standard option of setting up a publicly available hot-spot.
Businesses will often off "free" wi-fi to customers - coffee shops, hotels or even supermarkets all do this. It's certainly convenient for the customer - after you're found the wi-fi code and then agreed to the terms and conditions...
What about those terms and conditions then? What do they actually say?
There are a number of issues with "free" public w-fi to be aware of:
- wireless networking is less secure
- setting up a router properly should mean that it's not possible to use free wi-fi to hack in to a host system, but it's recommended that a separate router be used to be certain of this
- if you have to register your device, the wi-fi network operator will have som eof your personal details (name, address, e-mail address etc...). They have responsibilities under the data protection act and GDPR with regard to how long and for what purpose they store this information. These are complex and legally binding - see the Computers and the Law page for more details
- there is the potential for a wi-fi operator to be taken to court if a user who connects to their network does something illegal - for example, downloading copyrighted material or doing something that breaks the Computer Misuse Act (see Computers and the Law again). But this is very unlikely and there are no cases in which it has happened - see this article on Ars Technica for lots of details
- wireless networks can get flooded with traffic easily, slowing connection speeds to ineffective (I find using wi-fi on a busy train is usually not worth the effort, for example). Some operators block access to obvious sources such as video or music streaming services which use lots of data
The Terms and Conditions (that you always read...) will almost certainly include something about not using the network illegally. This effectively passes any responsibility on to the end user for any illegal activity that takes place.
Wireless networks and passwords
When you access a wi-fi hotspot you can almost always see other, password protected wireless networks. The only thing protecting these networks is password security - and we know how much of an issue this is.
One particular issue is if someone visits your house and asked to access your wi-fi. Do you tell them the password or enter it for them? If you do enter it, is there a keylogger working on their machine? And what happens once they leave your house? They only need to be close enough to your router to pick up a signal to be able to access your network...
It is illegal under the Communications Act 2003 (not the Computer Misuse Act) to access a secured internet connection without paying for the access - i.e. using a password protected network without permission of the operator. That means guessing your neighbour's password is illegal! (see the Computers and the Law page)