The Perils of Open WiFi Networks

How many have ever used someone’s WiFi connection without their permission? How many have ever had their own wireless network that was not password protected? I know I have, hundreds of times and in hundreds of places, I have “stolen” a wireless connection to download email or browse the net for a few minutes. And, for many years my home had a wireless router that was not password protected. So, my network was open to passers by to use.

I never thought of this more than as if I allow people cut through my yard as a shortcut to the next street or giving a hitchhiker a ride somewhere. It turns out like the chance you take that the hitchhiker might be a serial hatchet murderer, that unknown guy glomming on to your wireless network may be no less a threat.

Associated Press in the April 24 issue of Businessweek reported on a guy in Buffalo who woke up one morning to agents from ICE, Immigration Customs Enforcement, breaking down his front door, holding him down on the floor and calling him a pedophile and a pervert. The FBI did the same thing to a Florida man for similar reason. The crime? Their wireless routers were not password protected so someone – NOT them – used their signal to access the internet and download illegal images. Both glommer’s on were eventually caught.

This makes me wonder about two things – one is, as the story pointed out, had the agents stepped back and tried  a smart phone with wireless or actually booted up a laptop close to the “suspects” homes they would have seen that the wireless networks were open to anyone to use and at least raised the “possibility” that someone else was guilty of the downloads in question. Then a simple knock on the door would have been more appropriate than an assault force.

The second thing I thought about is, protecting yourself today in an electronic world. Back when someone used my yard as a cut through to the other street, I either knew them or at least had seen them in the neighborhood before. But when someone is passing through your computer – everything changes. They are faceless and nameless. I’m not talking only about local wireless networks either. Sometimes the person getting into your computer and your life can be half a world away. Protecting yourself isn’t always as easy as a password. Sometimes experts are needed especially in the case of your business. Do your homework, make sure you and your data are secure. A little prevention will go a long way. Let me know if we can help. So… in the immortal words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (ask an American over 40), “Let’s be careful out there.”

So long from the east side of Bangkok… Vic

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