You know you’ve lost if terrorism means you start banning public Wi-Fi

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

No public Wi-FiAfter terrorists killed 130 people in Paris last month, it’s no surprise to see law enforcement looking to find “easy wins” to curb future attacks.

But a report from Motherboard (based upon the original French-language report about an internal document from the Ministry of Interior) leaves me feeling that French police are going about it the wrong way.

That document talks about two proposed pieces of legislation, one around the state of emergency, and the other concerning counter-terrorism.

Regarding the former, French law enforcement wish to “Forbid free and shared wi-fi connections” during a state of emergency. This comes from a police opinion included in the document: the reason being that it is apparently difficult to track individuals who use public wi-fi networks.

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As for the latter, law enforcement would like “to block or forbid communications of the Tor network.” The legislation, according to Le Monde, could be presented as early as January 2016.

So much for the famous French cry of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!“, eh?


Quite how free and shared Wi-Fi would be banned during a “state of emergency” is unclear. How would such a ban be enforced? Consider, for instance, that a smartphone can be turned into a Wi-Fi access point with relative ease, or the number of French bistros that may offer Wi-Fi to patrons alongside their coffee.

Even if businesses and individuals were ordered to no longer offer Wi-Fi without a password to the public, what’s to stop them setting the Wi-Fi password to be exactly the same as the hotspot’s SSID? In short, anyone who can see your Wi-Fi network exists can also tell what its password is.

And, of course, the proposal ignores the belief that the terrorists in Paris communicated with each other via bog-standard SMS text message.

Meanwhile, if France were to resort to technological means to block the Tor anonymity network it would be putting itself in an exclusive club of countries consisting of itself and China. Russia would reportedly quite like to block Tor, but doesn’t appear to have found a way to manage it yet.

And, it shouldn’t be forgotten, Tor is not just used by criminals. Millions of people use the Tor anonymity network for perfectly legitimate purposes, because they wish to keep their personal and business activities confidential and private, and resent third parties from discovering their location or browsing habits.

What if France wanted to just “forbid” the usage of Tor rather than block it? Well, good luck getting terrorists to worry very much about breaking the law…

The truth is that technologies like Tor and encryption are tools for freedom. Freedom to express yourself. Freedom to be private.

You know the terrorists have won if it means you start banning public Wi-Fi and blocking Tor.

(PS. There’s no word yet on any ban on the PlayStation 4.)

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

10 comments on “You know you’ve lost if terrorism means you start banning public Wi-Fi”

  1. coyote

    Trying to block a communication medium during an emergency (or even heightened risk)? That's so exceedingly stupid that I would like to believe nobody would even think it would be a good idea (although I don't think I'm surprised). What will they accomplish during this besides isolating more people which will mean less people are safe? Lack of communication during an emergency is a very bad thing. This should be obvious even to people who have never been in an emergency of any kind.

    To think you can win against an ideal is stupid as it is but to try to limit communication during an emergency? That's the opposite of what you would want to do. The most deadliest enemy of 'the West' is 'the West' – even without this.

  2. Andy

    Although I understand that you feel the blocking of WiFi to be counter productive, it will make it easier for the spies to track the crims because they'll be forced to use their phones – which can then be tracked whilst comms over Wi-Fi are harder to track, well, in my mind they are anyway.

  3. graphicequaliser

    False flag terrorism – terrorists funded, armed and trained by Western forces so as to enable Western governments to apply draconian measures to curtail the freedoms of their voters. It is now so blatantly obvious, that it has become the elephant in the Western living room!

    1. Starrxxfoxx · in reply to graphicequaliser

      Uh huh. Right graphicequaliser. You know whats going on don't you?


      1. graphicequaliser · in reply to Starrxxfoxx

        Yes, I do. In this particular case, I have direct physical evidence implicating David Cameron in supplying arms and inside information to Abdelhamid Abaaoud. The document even has Cameron's fingerprints on it! That would hold up in court, if I can get it there!

        1. TruthTeller · in reply to graphicequaliser

          Seriously, Graham, you need to deal with this kind of nonsense. I realize that you are an anti-corporate, anti-NSA, pro-"freedom to post whatever anyone want" stalwart. But, somewhere you need to draw a line and take a stand. Do you seriously believe this knucklehead has "evidence", let alone "direct physical evidence"?

          You cannot escape your personal responsibility for not participating in this sort of broadcast. You can ignore it, but you cannot escape it. You have personal accountability, whether you acknowledge it or not. Not monitoring and vetting a response site that you actually monitor is simply making you complicit in the nonsense and libel posted here.

  4. TruthTeller

    "False flags"??? Sure, 130 of them in Paris, 14 in San Bernadino. Not to count also the wounded. And thousands more back through the past decades. graphicequaliser needs to get a clue. Are you an agent for CAIR?

    Seriously, Cluley. you ought to consider removing posts like that one. Besides being offensive, the author suffers from paranoid derangement syndrome. Perhaps a member of Anonymous?

  5. Al45cdo

    Never understand this type of rationale the whole point of what these people are doing, is trying to disrupt our normal day to day way off life. All this kind of ill thought-out knee jerk reaction succeeds in doing is giving them exactly what they want.

  6. Dan Delion

    As Coyote says, how incredibly stupid! blocking Wi-Fi prevents further victims/ observers / emergency service personel communicating with the 'authorities' while blocking Windows 10's generous sharing of your wifi (see report above) would simply add to chaos and really annoy MS users (I guess).

    Apart from that, what's to stop people using Cb radios or even toy walky-talky sets? One doesn't only need sophisticated encryption to send a secret message – one might even resort to Navaho or Sioux languages as in WWII!

    And I can;t help thinking global Corps would be just a little miffed if transmission of 'commercially sensitive' data was interferred with!

    No. Protection means having as many eyes and ears open as possible, not closing them all down.

  7. David L

    Facts are,leftist progressive socialist around the world will use any tragedy (real or fabricated)to gain more control over the people,usurping freedoms that make the west so appealing to millions around the world. In the US, they ALWAYS trot out gun control and "we need backdoor access" to every communication, just after a mass shooting, and trying extremely hard to blame it on everything except radical Islamic jihadist. They can not show one instance where the intrusive monitoring of metadata has lead to even one time they thwarted an attack. But in many instances,they had information that was ignored because of political correctness. They had all kinds of troubling information on the San Bernardino shooters. And yet,failed to act. Why?

    France has some of the toughest gun control laws of any country,yet the jihadist somehow managed to get all manner of munitions. The terrorist and or criminals WILL ALWAYS obtain implements of destruction. The only ones that suffer are the law abiding citizens who are left defenseless. The elitist government leaders will always have protection and you better believe their children go to private schools that are protected by ARMED security!

    A retired NSA official has publicly stated that western governments are swamped with too much data,and can not possibly filter it out into any useable form. That gives the bad guys a huge haystack to hide in. As hard as any of our law enforcement works, they never seem to connect the dots. Why? It's not a lack of effort,but the leaders who tie their hands behind their backs that are causing many of these failures. Why? I have a few ideas about the why's,and none of them are good. Massive changes are coming,both for Europe,and the other western nations,and hopefully,it will be a massive course correction.

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