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North Jersey Police Warn of Wi-Fi Jammers

Two weeks ago, the Morris County Police Department made headlines when it warned of an attempted burglary using a Wi-Fi signal blockers But just how concerning is the technology? Experts interviewed by NorthJersey.com have different opinions.

In a notice to the community, Police Chief Joseph Orlando said that around 11:30 a.m. on June 10, a Florham Park resident in the basement of his Lincoln Avenue home reported hearing noises coming from the first floor.

The resident briefly saw an unknown man on his security camera trying to enter his home, but both the camera system and his cell phone lost signal. Orlando said police later determined the suspect used a Wi-Fi jammers, which disabled all Wi-Fi-accessible devices in the house.

Orlando called the method used in the burglary an "astounding advancement in technology" and a level of sophistication the area had never experienced before.

"While Wi-Fi jammers are nothing new to criminals, this is the first time we've seen or heard of them being used in Morris County," he said.

The Morris County Sheriff's Office declined to comment further on the alleged crime or the increase in such activity, saying it was an active investigation and commenting could adversely affect the outcome.

But criminals are becoming "more and more sophisticated," according to Tom Shea, former director of Seton Hall University's graduate program in policing and a retired Long Beach police officer. He said this level of activity is "getting worse and worse" because technology is readily available and affordable to the average person.

He likened it to a game of cat and mouse

"Criminals are getting more sophisticated, and law enforcement has to figure out what they're doing and get better tools," Shea said, "and then criminals figure that out and they get different tools."

Brian Higgins, a former Bergen County police chief and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, believes such criminal activity is still relatively rare and largely avoidable with proper precautions.

Higgins said he doesn’t see this type of break-in as a trend yet, noting, “It’s pretty high-tech; you have to know what you’re doing.” However, he added, “I think you’ll see more of it” as tech-savvy criminals figure out how to defeat security systems.

Now, security companies must get ahead of the curve and keep their customers safe.

Higgins and Shea believe that after the first jamming incidents became public, system operators began looking for solutions and eventually rolled out new features to combat the practice.

This type of crime has become more common as companies like Ring and SimpliSafe have introduced wireless alarm systems. These systems are designed to make it easier for homeowners by connecting all devices to a single source, but that also means they’re easier for criminals to dismantle.

“If you can jam Wi-Fi, your alarm system is disabled,” Higgins said, comparing the practice to another recent exploit of new technology: stealing parked cars from driveways where owners leave their keys inside.

Wi-Fi jammers, which are illegal under federal law, can also block signals from police intercoms. Earlier this year, Democratic Rep. Carol Murph of Mount Laurel introduced a bill that would criminalize Wi-Fi jammers at the state level. The bill was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee in February.

In the Florham Park incident, the resident stopped a pedestrian on the street, who called 911. Officers from the Florham Park and Madison police departments and the Morris County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene but were unable to find the suspect, who fled after realizing the resident was home.

First it was cars, now it's homes in a 'sleepy suburb'

Shea said the gangs started out just selling drugs or stealing cars in affluent neighborhoods, but over time the criminals have become more sophisticated, learning new techniques and constantly trying to stay one step ahead of police. The risk is worth it, he said.

Florham Park police linked the alleged theft to an overseas criminal group. Shea said that's not surprising because transnational crime "is nothing new." He said the pace of globalization is accelerating every year, thanks to technological advances, and that crime is becoming easier to commit.

So how can police departments keep up?

Law enforcement throughout northern New Jersey has likely already met to form a task force to combat the growing “complex crime,” but if not, Shea said it’s critical that police “wake up” and realize they need to address the crime because he’s seeing it “get worse and worse.”

And it’s likely that this crime will continue to infiltrate the suburbs.

Some criminals are very smart and have had plenty of time to train for what they do, Shea said. With the new tools, they realize that surveillance homes in quiet, upscale suburbs are easy targets because police aren’t necessarily as vigilant as they would be in the city center.

on June 28 at 5:00

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