back to article Conference Wi-Fi biz fined $750k for jamming personal hotspots

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined a network operator $750,000 for blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots in favor of its own Wi-Fi networks in US convention centers. The FCC said in its decree [PDF] that Smart City used its Wi-Fi network equipment to transmit deauthentication frames that disabled the personal …

  1. Tromos

    FCC lines its pockets, but with whose money?

    How about some refunds for those who attended the conventions in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Phoenix, Arizona; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Orlando, Florida? I suspect that would be more significant than the fine imposed.

    1. elDog Silver badge

      Re: FCC lines its pockets, but with whose money?

      Well, the for-profit conference sponsors aren't about to admit that they allowed these types of shenigans.

      How about the rest of the "accommodation" industry (hotels, restaurants, airports) that make the wireless signals of their in-house customers close to unusable? There are a lot of ways to do this without appearing openly to be "jamming" - perhaps just degrading the signal-to-noise?

    2. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: FCC lines its pockets, but with whose money?

      >How about some refunds ...

      Class action lawsuit, anybody ? Nail these bastards ...

    3. cortland

      Re: FCC lines its pockets, but with whose money?

      No pockets are lined.

      47 U.S. Code § 504 - Forfeitures

      (a) Recovery

      The forfeitures provided for in this chapter shall be payable into the Treasury of the United States, and shall ...

      https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/504

  2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Openzone/Fon

    I get complaints from clients in Central London that their WiFi is being hijacked by BT's services, it quite often being the strongest on the list of SSID's. They make it so easy for you to connect to them, then they ask you to get your credit card out.

    The irony is that it is the customer's own HomeHub Router that is often supplying that service. Has anyone succeeded in charging BT a rental for using their bandwidth to offer this service?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Openzone/Fon

      I doubt it, given that it's in the contract and all.

      You do get something in return for it mind you, if you enable the Fon functionality on your router, you get access to all the other Fon points, if you turn it off, you don't.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: Openzone/Fon

        There was a case recently which HMRC lost where TL;DR was apparently a valid reason for not wishing to read through a set of T's&C's thoroughly (by a barrister!).

    2. Probie

      Re: Openzone/Fon

      Home Hub is residential - or at least as far as I can tell, (I have a infinity line), removing that "mandatory" set of hot spots out of the POS router was painless, but why does a company have a "Home Hub" as a router.

      Buy something else that has a "guest" portal and then charge for the access using something like paypal, such a setup is what 200-300 pounds initially. That would pay for itself pretty quickly. Probably avoid BT T 'and C's as well as you would be sharing out your Wi-Fi not your broadband.

  3. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Go

    I like this new FCC

    I don't know where they finally got the balls to actually enforce their rules, but I like it!

    I'm finally getting some of the government I pay for. I'm completely gobsmacked.

  4. badger31

    We have always acted in good faith

    What utter bollocks. Just because something is available "out-of-the-box" doesn't automatically make it right to use it.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: We have always acted in good faith

      Yes, that's what I came here to say too. After all, this is the USA where you buy a gun "out of the box" too, but it's up to the purchaser to know and understand where and when it's safe to use. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and use of signal jammers are very highly regulated in most countries since they are RF transmitters.

    2. dajames Silver badge

      Re: We have always acted in good faith

      Just because something is available "out-of-the-box" doesn't automatically make it right to use it.

      Indeed. One wonders why it is available OotB, and whether any good purpose is served by it.

  5. Camilla Smythe Silver badge

    Nobody told us.

    Buggering Lambs was illegal. We just whipped out our equipment in a dimly lit barn and found it worked.

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Boom..

      Spot on.

      In fact a £70 wifi pineapple secreted about the building would have solved that problem nicely.

      Illegal or not i wouldn't have had any compunctions about doing it. Fight fire with fire....

  7. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    For real

    "Why didn't someone just set up a hotspot to broadcast deauthentication frames for the official wifi?"

    This. I would view this behavior as offensive behavior that violates wifi standards, and attempt to disable the malfunctioning equipment. First, I would try to crash out just the deauth software alone. Barring that, I would try to crash their access points in their entirety. As a last resort, time for the scorched earth policy, they cannot possibly complain about the same tactic being used against them as they are using against everyone else, so I'd feel free to deauth their access points until such a time as they quit deauth'ing everyone else.

    To the conference company: No you don't have any vigorous legal arguments, the FCC rules are very clear that your devices must accept interference from others AND must not unnecessarily interfere with others. Sending forged packets to disable other's use of the wifi spectrum is clearly interference. End of discussion. You should have known better, but good on you for not trying to waste your and the court's time pursuing whatever nonsense legal argument you think you had. And thank goodness the FCC is getting some teeth about this kind of nonsense 8-)

  8. Florida1920 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    OMFSM

    we had no prior notice that the FCC considered the use of this standardized, 'available-out-of-the-box' technology to be a violation of its rules

    What a dipstick.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: OMFSM

      Indeed. And for someone in that business to not have heard about the Marriott hotel incident ... well they can't be very good at keeping up with what's going on around them.

  9. kain preacher Silver badge

    Now fine the hotels that used them

  10. DavCrav Silver badge

    "We have always acted in good faith, and we had no prior notice that the FCC considered the use of this standardized, 'available-out-of-the-box' technology to be a violation of its rules"

    I don't even understand how someone living in a country that sells guns can enunciate such a sentence.

    1. Big John Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Enunciation

      Hey, I bet your country sells guns too, but only clandestinely and only to criminals. Everyone else is disarmed gun-free.

      1. Credas Silver badge

        Re: Enunciation

        Hey, I bet your country sells guns too, but only clandestinely and only to criminals. Everyone else is disarmed gun-free.

        Yes, and compared to the the Land of the Armed hardly anybody gets shot. Who would have imagined?

      2. Hans 1 Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Enunciation

        >Hey, I bet your country sells guns too, but only clandestinely and only to criminals. Everyone else is disarmed gun-free.

        The only rational argument for owning guns you can bring forward here is that you like guns, it is not the best argument, but, that's it, all you've got.

        All these "I need my rifle to protect my family" arguments are bullshit.

        Take Australia ... you could freely buy guns there some decades ago, they had several big bloodbaths and in the aftermath of the last (which was pretty big and involved kids) they imposed strong restrictions on the sale of guns. Guess what, no bloodbath since ...

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Also - my car can do 150mph, that doesn't make it legal to do so past a school at chucking out time.

      But it's "out of the box" functionality... WaaHaa...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Please DavCrav

      Go piss off you simpering witless dolt. It's twits like you that divide this world and make it difficult to have any civil discourse. Ignorant fearmongering seems to be your only "Stock in trade". Please take your "blankie" and go back to kindergarten where you belong.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: Please DavCrav

        "Go piss off you simpering witless dolt. It's twits like you that divide this world and make it difficult to have any civil discourse. Ignorant fearmongering seems to be your only "Stock in trade". Please take your "blankie" and go back to kindergarten where you belong."

        For fuck's sake, that whooshing sound is the point of what I said flying past. My point was, this guy is saying "I can buy something whose functionality, if used, is probably a crime. That's ridiculous." A gun was the most obvious example of an object that has a pretty clear out-of-the-box functionality that, if used, results in a crime. See also, cars that can do 250mph, chainsaws, etc.

      2. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Please DavCrav

        @AC - Please take your "blankie" and go back to kindergarten where you belong.

        How long until you're allowed to go to nursery?

        If you're going to launch personal attacks on someone then at least stand behind them.

        I had a look at the shootings stats between the UK and the USA a few weeks back and I was utterly horrified by the statistics in the US. In 30 years (of increasing gun control) the UK has had 3 mass shootings, one in a school and one involved a school - the US had over a hundred in the last 5 years in schools alone...

        (http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2015/07/06/us_cops_warn_against_pistol_shaped_iphone_case/#c_2562432)

  11. earl grey Silver badge
    Flame

    Now, to properly finish the job.

    Kick them in the nuts a few times.

  12. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    $80 a day?

    That's cheap - I've seen contracts from Wi-Fi vendors at conferences asking for $800 a day for vendors.

    1. Steve Aubrey

      Re: $80 a day?

      I don't think this was for the vendors. I think the attendees were being hit up.

  13. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    weak excuse IMHO

    While we have strong legal arguments, we've determined that mounting a vigorous defense would ultimately prove too costly and too great a distraction for our leadership team."

    Which really means that the Execs with corner offices can't be dragged away from the Golf Course/Country Club for long enough to fight this case which they will probably lose and then what future their jobs then?

    Hey Guys, another round?

  14. Emmeran

    Good while it lasted

    The entire response was "Oh well, it was good while it lasted"

  15. Alan Edwards

    Just ignore them?

    Is there a valid reason why a wifi network would be sending out deauth frames? Why does an access point accept deauth frames from some random device anyway?

    I was just thinking whether it would be possible to build a wifi-to-cellular router with firmware that has a 'conference mode' that ignores all deauth frames.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Just ignore them?

      > Is there a valid reason why a wifi network would be sending out deauth frames?

      Yes, there may be any number of reasons for asking a client to leave a network.

      > Why does an access point accept deauth frames from some random device anyway?

      Well technically it's not - it's accepting it from an authenticated client; or in the other direction, the client is accepting it from the AP. The problem is that the packet isn't encrypted or protected and so it's easy to spoof the MAC address(s) involved.

      I think it comes down to the old "security wasn't the problem it is now back then" problem, plus the "it's not practical to make a change that would break every existing device". One more example of "if we knew then what we know now then ..."

      More info :

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi_deauthentication_attack

      1. James 100

        Re: Just ignore them?

        "Yes, there may be any number of reasons for asking a client to leave a network."

        YOUR network, yes - but the problem here is that *their* network can order clients to leave *another* network! That's the absurdity of it. Vodafone can't come along and switch my Three service off - because it's not their network.

        It's an absolutely braindead flaw, and far too widely abused (I've seen universities abusing it to prevent people tethering their laptops to phones within range of their WLAN, too) - fortunately, the vulnerability was fixed in the 802.11w update, which Windows 8 implemented, so hopefully this will be a problem of the past eventually!

  16. cortland

    Yuh tells 'em an yuh tells 'em

    USB tether is the answer.

  17. oiseau
    WTF?

    A joke, surely ....

    "We have always acted in good faith, and we had no prior notice that the FCC considered the use of this standardized, 'available-out-of-the-box' technology to be a violation of its rules."

    And they had to have prior notice from the FCC to realise that they were shafting the attendees?

    The crap you get to hear these days ...

  18. Mike Shepherd

    Translation

    "While we have strong legal arguments, we've determined that mounting a vigorous defense would ultimately prove too costly and too great a distraction for our leadership team".

    Translation: "We were caught and realise we don't a snowball-in-hell's chance of defending it".

  19. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again...

    Anyone whose defense boils down to "We believe that we followed the letter of the law," is tacitly admitting that they knew damned well that they were violating the SPIRIT of the law.

  20. Kwll

    mmm..

    Hold on, an hammer is an available-out-of-the-box tool.

    Following their same reasoning, smashing their APs should be feasible. Then, as compensation, would gladly sell them new APs and charge them for their reconfiguration at a favorable price.

    After all could always say that i did not know it was a blatant violation of the law!:)

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