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Your Take: Using Unprotected Wi-Fi Hotspots

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iPhoneHow many times have you hopped onto an unprotected wireless access point? I don’t mean the ones that are open to the public, like at Panera, McDonald’s, or Starbucks. I mean someone’s personal home internet that they left unprotected, unpassworded. I haven’t done it in a long time, the last time was probably on a trip to Pittsburgh over ten years ago and it was a matter of convenience. I forget where I was but it was a residential area and I wanted to get online…. someone left their wifi unprotected (as often happened in college) and I could surf the web for free.

Some could call it stealing. Others would compare it to reading a newspaper that someone just threw out. Where do you stand?

I was reminded of this when I read a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article about Devicescape, a company that build technology that detects nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and connects if it’s publicly available. The article talked about working with cell phone companies so that the phones use Wi-Fi rather than the cellular network. In essence, subscribers are stealing wireless without their own knowledge!

What’s your take on using other’s unprotected wi-fi without their permission and of technology like this, which invisibly uses free wi-fi whenever available, without the user’s knowledge?

(Photo: markjsebastian)

{ 26 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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26 Responses to “Your Take: Using Unprotected Wi-Fi Hotspots”

  1. Glenn Lasher says:

    Well, first off, you shouldn’t leave a wifi hot spot open. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s dangerous, because the actions of others, if they cause a problem of some sort (think child porn, frauds and scams, spam, etc) will be attributed to you.

    That said, I’m not a child pornographer or their customer, nor a fraudster, scam artist or spammer. My computers are clean of vira, so they won’t be participating in botnets or doing other socially unacceptable things with the borrowed wifi. As such, I don’t have a problem borrowing, strictly short-term, a wifi network that has been left opened, especially knowing that some folks do this deliberately as a public service to their communities.

    Do be aware, though, that you don’t know the owner of the wifi network you are using. You don’t know what they are doing with the traffic you generate. Use a VPN if you can, to conceal what you are doing, just in case you have tripped over a hacker’s honeypot.

  2. Cole Brodine says:

    I maybe would have felt bad 5 years ago, but almost every modern router you buy forces security on you. You really have to want to leave it open to get past all the crazy warnings.

    Like @Glenn Lasher says, I don’t do anything untoward so it doesn’t really bother me. I agree that you are actually taking a risk connecting to unsecured wifi.

  3. DMoney says:

    Unprotected Wifi is like unprotected sex: yea it may seem easier/convenient at the time but is it worth the risk?

    :)

  4. beth says:

    heck yes i use others wifi.

  5. In my mind unsecured wifi is tantamount to an invitation to take advantage of it, so I’d have no qualms about using it from the perspective of theft. I probably wouldn’t though due to fear I’m being lured into a trap of sorts.

  6. Brett says:

    If you do decide to connect to unsecured wifi, never sign into a website unless it is using ssl. If you decide to do a little facebooking and aren’t logged into https, it will take anybody who knows what they are doing about 30 seconds to gain access to your account and change your password.

  7. Robert says:

    If I leave my keys in the car unlocked is it OK to have unprotected sex in it? But I digress..

    If I need internet access and it is available for “free”, I would use it after considering any potential risk/reward. Like, how badly do I really need to access the internet? Yo take your chances but no risk no reward..

  8. Ray says:

    Most wifi now a days is automatically protected, if a particular spot isnt protected I’d say its fair game, but also understand that someone could be watching your every message.

  9. Tony says:

    Given that it is extremely unlikely that the unprotected wifi you’d be connected to is attached to a metered internet connection (where they pay per mb used), it isn’t stealing.

    But I would probably consider it trespassing. I’d equate it with cutting through someone’s backyard to get somewhere faster. If you willing to risk getting shot, go ahead. Otherwise, go a little bit out of the way and do things the right way.

  10. Howard Hirsch says:

    I would have no problem using an unprotected WiFi. What is openly available over the public airways is technically free, like over the air television. Perhaps the reason why people mistakenly don’t set up a password is that they don’t know better or simply don’t know how to set one up. My issue would be with the wireless modem/router manufacturers. They should automatically provide units with passwords that would be documented with their instructions. This would also include ways to either change it or defeat it.

  11. Kurt says:

    It’s not stealing if everyone did their part to subscribe and pay for broadband service at their home. So, do your part by leaving your router unsecured and you too can enjoy mobile wi-fi….yeah, unsecured scares me too. Nevermind.
    OR, let’s make it secure and have everyone in the community register to use the hot spots. Upon registration, you would get passcode information.
    Nothing is perfect, and that’s why I bought the upholstery protection package. The keys are in the ignition.

  12. I’ve hopped on unsecured wifi at apartment complexes. I make sure to put my computer in public network mode and have everything patched up.

  13. knotReally says:

    i keep mine locked up. in fact, if i didnt have mac products connected i wouldnt even broadcast the SSID (stupid macs). however, i utilize mac-filtering and a complex password.

    i highly recommend not even broadcasting if you can. you cant break into something you dont know exists.

  14. freeby50 says:

    Unauthorized use of computer networks is often illegal. I mean think about it, how do you stop hackers if its not illegal to jump on a network without authorization?? Lack of a password doesn’t make it legal.

    I think it varies based on local state level laws. But theres good reason for it to be illegal. Someone getting on a network without permission cna do a lOT of harm.

    I’m sure everyone here has innocent intentions and aren’t going to steal someones bank accounts but the laws are to stop the people who have bad intentions.

    Now of course if a neighbor purposefully invites you to use their network, then thats likely another issue. And of course nobody should be leaving a network unprotected for their own safety.

  15. Kenny says:

    Guys, if there are people, companies, groups that are making their WiFi HotSpots open, then it is their choice.

    I interpret them as Free Radio Waves or TV Waves, that can and should be used.

    The Security details comes with every DSL/Cable connection, and it is really upto them for using it.

    If someone is using their neighbors network daily, and disconnecting their own, then it would be classified as stealing, but if you are just tapping into it with your iPhone for general surfing, it is not defined in my books as ‘abuse or stealing’.

    I am in the business of enabling corporations with WLAN and WiFi solutions. We lost the bid to McD and Chipotle, but have won lots of these networks (Hilton for example). So, we understand the security issue, bandwidth issue, QoS (quality of service issue) and also the financial impact to the payer.

    All in all, the answer is that ‘it depends on the situation’.

    Hope this dual viewpoint helps.

    Kenny

    • Matt M says:

      I agree that it is a choice to leave a network unprotected and if someone makes that choice I don’t think it is stealing to tap into the network.

  16. I am always careful in using unprotected Wi-Fi. You don’t know what kind of trap you are getting into. Similarly, I do not keep my hot spot open, not even to my next door neighbor.

  17. Detecting an open network on your device is really tempting. But analyzing the situation, you should think twice. Why do they leave their WiFi open to everybody? Who are the people connecting to the internet through this network? How safe is it for me and my device to use the connection? You have the answers in your hand. Isn’t it scary?

  18. How do you even leave your wifi open?! haha, every time I got new internet set up moving around a lot in college, they always password protected it!

  19. Shirley says:

    I guess it’s OK if it’s knowlingly and freely offered, but I’d still have my system locked down tightly.

    Perhaps it is my upbringing (70 to 50 years ago) that still says that ‘if I can’t earn it/pay for it/get it legally, then I don’t really need it.’

  20. John says:

    I got to tell you: When I see people with unprotected networks it makes me want to go knock on their door and help them set a password! Not sure why it bothers me so much . . . perhaps I care? After all, what if they become an identity theft victim and I did absolutely nothing about it?

  21. Seth says:

    I’m on the side of saying it’s OK, assuming you are not doing anything unsavory or using up large amounts of bandwidth.


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