German WiFi owners are now liable for what third party users download while connected to their network

Internet users in Germany can now be fined up to €100 if a third party takes advantage of their unprotected WLAN connection to illegally download music or other files.

According to the Associated Press, Germany’s top criminal court has said that internet users need to secure their private wireless connections by password to prevent unauthorised people from using their web access to illegally download data.

However the court stopped short of holding the users responsible for the illegal content the third party downloads themselves.

Patrick Runald, security research manager at Websense, doubted that the laws will have any effect. He said: “Downloading copyrighted material is already illegal in Germany so as far as I know this new law (or actually Supreme Court ruling which sets a precedent) means that an owner of an open WiFi is seen as an accessory to the crime and can therefore be fined.

“That’s how I interpret the ruling but as said, it won’t deter people. If anything it will, hopefully, make people set a WEP/WPA/WPA2 password on their routers. So the new law doesn’t target the people who download the pirated software, it’s going after those who possibly help facilitate the crime, most likely totally unknowingly.

“This is because they didn’t have the technical skills to understand the need for enabling WEP/WPA/WPA2 on their router. I wonder if it’s already illegal for a device manufacturer to sell a WiFi router that doesn’t come with encryption enabled by default?”

Asked whether a law such as this could ever transfer to the UK, Stuart Okin, managing director of Comsec Consulting, said: “I don’t ever see that coming over here as I don’t see how it could be policed in the UK.

“In Germany there is a different culture, and when rules come into play they are obeyed without question. In the UK I am not saying that no one will do it, but it is not advisable and realistic to work.”

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