The BPI misleading people about wifi security? You decide
If you were listening to Radio 4’s Today programme this morning you might have heard the BPI’s Geoff Taylor discussing the Digital Economy Bill with David Babbs from the campaign organisation 38 Degrees. Of course, Geoff and the BPI are in favour of the Bill, which we have staunchly opposed.
So we were surprised – to put it mildly – to hear Geoff quote “a TalkTalk survey” to support his arguments. The problem is we don’t recognise the figure Geoff mentioned. Having checked with him, it seems he has been rather misleading in selecting one figure from a press release we issued last autumn. But more of that later.
First, the context. The relevant passage of the Today programme interview focused on the security of people’s wireless internet connections. The Digital Economy Bill will place the onus on broadband customers to secure their WiFi connection. So if anyone hacks the connection and uses it to illegally download copyrighted material, the blame lies with the innocent owner, not the hacker, unless they can prove they took ‘reasonable steps’ to protect their connection. If they cannot do so then they could be disconnected.
We think this is utterly wrong in principle and doomed to failure in practice. In fact, only a few days ago we issued a piece of research which estimated that the cost to consumers of making sure their wireless connections were secure with the latest technology could run to several hundred million pounds. Geoff Taylor said that “most people on residential connections using wireless already have their connections secured – it’s something like 95% of connections, according to a TalkTalk survey, are already secured.”
In other words, only 5% are unsecured. (If you want to listen to the relevant passage of the interview, you can do so here – from 6mins in.) This is incorrect and hugely misleading. Last autumn we undertook a survey of over 1,000 wireless connections in a series of residential streets in Ealing.
We found that 41% of the connections were vulnerable to unauthorised use, and actually the true number may be much higher. Under the terms of the Digital Economy Bill, these people could be disconnected if someone downloads copyrighted material via their connection.
When we announced the results of this survey, we also undertook a demonstration in Stanmore, where we checked 68 local wireless connections. Using this much smaller sample we found that 34% were vulnerable to hacking. Six per cent had no security at all and 28% had only WEP technology, which – as we pointed out – many people think is secure but is actually easily hackable by anyone with a laptop. Only one connection out of those 68 used WPA2, the highest form of wireless security protection and the only type which has so far not been hacked.
The BPI appears to have taken the 6% figure and claimed it accurately represents the number of unsecured wireless connections in the UK. You can judge for yourself whether you think they or we are more accurate in portraying the threat of unauthorised downloading. At any rate, we think the Digital Economy Bill presents a major threat to Britain’s internet users. It is a dangerous and misguided piece of legislation, which we believe does not deserve to become law.