Child Porn Cases Highlight the Dangers of Unsecure Home WiFi

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When you think about the danger of cyber criminals invading your home WiFi network, what’s your biggest fear? If you’re like most consumers, it’s likely to be having your sensitive information stolen and used to commit identity fraud. But what about the risk of an online intruder using your home WiFi connection to secretly download child pornography?

If that sounds far-fetched, consider this: Child porn prosecutions in the U.S. are soaring, and what an increasing number of those cases show is shocking. Innocent people are being targeted in criminal investigations after pedophiles have used their unsecure home WiFi networks to download child pornography. The home WiFi users who are being investigated don’t have a clue that anything is wrong until government agents armed with search warrants knock on their door.

Other People’s WiFi: The Perfect Cover for Sharing Child Porn

That’s exactly what happened to a family in Oil City, Pennsylvania when state investigators and police tracked the sharing of child pornography files to their Internet Protocol (IP) address. According to TheDerrick.com, the agents conducted a search of the family’s laptop, but found no child porn files. That’s when they learned that the family had an open WiFi connection that was accessible from a nearby home. A search of that home led to the arrest of Jordan Scott Astrove, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced last month for the possession and distribution of child pornography. Investigators said Astrove used his neighbor’s open WiFi connection to download more than 80 images of children engaged in sexual activities. He admitted to using other unsecure home WiFi networks nearby for the same purpose.

In 2013, the FBI raided the home of a Mechanicsville, Virginia couple after discovering child porn was being downloaded to computers using their home WiFi connection. The only problem was their computers had nothing to do with the crime. But their unsecure home WiFi connection did. After a long investigation that unnerved the couple, the feds tracked the unlawful activity to a home across the street belonging to David Edward Sleezer. Agents raided it and confiscated a computer, CDs, and a thumb drive containing images and videos of child pornography. Sleezer was charged with five counts of receiving and distributing child porn.

In another case of mistaken Internet identity, a Bonney Lake, Washington couple was accused of downloading a huge volume of child pornography. According to Seattlepi.com, Homeland Security Investigations special agents searched their home after tracking an online porn account to their address. The couple protested their innocence, and no evidence of child porn was found. Then investigators learned that their neighbor, Kevin G. Heiland, had set up the couple’s WiFi network, but had neglected to put a password on it and wouldn’t tell them why. That led agents to Heiland’s home, where a search of his electronic devices uncovered more than 40,000 videos and images of children being sexually abused. This month, Heiland was charged with possession of child pornography.

Law enforcement officials say WiFi networks like that are easily accessible if they’re not secured with a password. That’s why they’re warning anyone with home WiFi to lock it down. Failing to do that could lead to your home network being hijacked and used to commit many kinds of crimes.

It could also jeopardize your Fourth Amendment rights which protect you from unreasonable government searches and seizures. If someone has used an unprotected WiFi connection to commit a crime, the internet service provider will point investigators to the person whose IP address has been exploited, not to the cyber criminal. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

How to Protect Your Home WiFi Network

  • Create a secure password for your WPA or WPA2 router that’s virtually impossible to guess. That means one with a combination of 8 to 20 upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Make sure your firewall is turned on and your antivirus software is up to date. Do frequent scans.
  • Disable file sharing.
  • Change the SSID (Service Set Identifier or network name). This won’t have any effect on your network security. But a default setting could
    tip off hackers that your network password may also not be secure
  • Turn off your wireless connection when you know you won’t be using it.
  • Use a virtual private network like PRIVATE WiFi. VPNs protect the data traveling to and from your computer by making it invisible to intruders.
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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.