Are You Liable if a Hacker Uses Your Open Wi-Fi to Defraud Others?

Cybercrime is on the rise with no signs of abating. In fact, according to some statistics, there are approximately 4,000 cyber attacks every day. The attacks can occur in any number of ways, but one thing some criminals do is use other people's open Wi-Fi service to commit illegal acts. This way, if law enforcement attempts to track down the perpetrator, they will be led to the individual who owns the Internet service instead of the criminal. While it's unlikely you would face criminal charges for crimes committed by a faceless hacker, you could be held civilly liable for damages.

Negligence Laws May Apply

If someone decides to sue you for something a hacker did using your Wi-Fi service, the person will most likely use negligence laws against you. To successfully win the case, the plaintiff must show:

  • You had a duty to the plaintiff
  • You failed in that duty
  • The plaintiff was harmed as a result
  • Your failure was the approximate cause of the plaintiff's losses

The question that will immediately come up is whether or not you had a duty to secure your Wi-Fi signal against unauthorized access. There is no law that requires citizens to password-protect their Internet service. Your Internet service provider may create a duty for you to secure your Wi-Fi and can put that requirement in your service contract, but most ISPs only recommend you lock down your network.

So on the surface it may seem like the plaintiff wouldn't have a case. However, people generally have a duty to behave reasonably in any given situation. The plaintiff could argue that a reasonable person would secure his or her Wi-Fi signal against potential breaches, and failure to do so would make the responsible party liable for damages.

What the Court Will Consider

Ultimately, the court will decide if the plaintiff's claim is plausible or not. One thing the court will take into consideration to determine if a person acted in a reasonable manner is what is customary in a particular situation. If the court feels it is customary for people to password-protect their Wi-Fi service, and you didn't do that, you could be found liable for the damages and losses associated with the intrusion.

The best defense against this type of lawsuit will depend on the circumstances of the case. You should consult with a personal injury attorney for more information about or assistance with handling this situation.