Confessions Of A Wi-Fi Thief

A wry editorial on Time Magazine’s site about tapping into your neighbors’ Wi-Fi tells of how the author [Lev Grossman] stole internet access from his neighbors’ open networks for years. He finally decided to pay for his own connection, which he fittingly leaves on an open network. He makes the point that leaving it open is a violation of his TOS agreement, but he doesn’t seem particularly bothered by the notion of people tapping into his network.

[Bruce Schneier] takes an even stronger stance on the issue, suggesting that it is not only safe to leave your network open, but a matter of politeness toward your guests, similar to providing them with basic amenities. He also mentions that if your computers are not adequately secured, network security won’t make much of a difference. We tend to agree with [Schneier] on this: we also leave our network completely open.

That’s not to say [Grossman] doesn’t have a point about the unreliability of pilfered internet access, noting “I always seemed to lose connectivity just when I was about to send a crucial e-mail.” Sure, we leave our network open, but we have to pay for our internet access. We really can’t afford not to. One thing [Grossman] didn’t mention (neither did [Schneier], but he wrote his article before this happened), is that a Maryland bill that would criminalize leeching Wi-Fi has been shot down. The first legislation of its kind, the defeat of the bill mean citizens of Maryland are free to leech from open networks without fear of prosecution, but it sets a precedent that may influence future rulings.

40 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Wi-Fi Thief

  1. Oooh, that stock photo looks so sinister with someone using both a mouse and touchpad at the same time.

    The real story here is that third link with the legal precedent. A fluff article about borrowing your neighbor’s open wifi and then maybe thinking it would be more ethical to get your own internet 3 years later has no place on hackaday.

  2. we can’t do that in france, cause in two monnth, private corporation are going to be allowed to knows name behind an ip.
    an them send mail to the network owner (if is ip is downloading song, films and other stuff).
    after 3 mail, his internet connection will be shut down for 1 year (and he won’t be allowed to subscribe to an other internet acces).

  3. There are whole cities that are networking for free internet access for their people. They wouldn’t have to do that if everybody that has wireless would leave there network connection open.

  4. Well having an open network can also ruin someone life (seriously).. i.e. someone doing something illegal on your connection, and then later sued or investigated by the cops. And then you have to provide evidence that you are innocent, and that always cost something. I’ve known a person who connection was open, someone download child porn from his connection, the ISP notified Cops, cops had no real evidence but they still believed he was guilty and thus made his life suck a pain over the years that he had to move to a different town. Also think about the MPAA\RIAA and if they go after you, how much money you need to fight back… it’s a minimum a few grand… (I’ve seen it happen) So please really think twice when you open your connection.. and if you do, then make sure you TELL everyone around you (neighbors) that you have an open connection to use, as this will help later if your accused of something.

  5. MAC address filtering with an open network seems reasonable for preventing unwanted connections while allowing known devices to connect, without having to give out a “password” which could end up compromised.

  6. Where I live we don’t have MPAA\RIAA or any of that nonsense, but I still keep my connection open.
    Every single time I’m asked to setup a wireless router I don’t even ask the owner if he wants to “secure” his/her connection. I’ll always leave it open. As stated before… if your PC is not properly secured, a small router won’t protect it. Plus the politeness part… it’s very true.
    Why would someone want to restrict internet usage? I’m sure NO ONE around here uses their bandwidth at 100% everytime. It’s a matter of courtesy towards strangers, sharing your internet.. after all, that’s it’s purpose isn’t it?
    This will probably all change when routers begin to get shipped with mesh-routing as a standard.
    Maybe I’ll start to block the sidewalk infront of my house so that no burglars may commit crimes in there. :P

  7. I agree with chris. If the point is to be friendly to your neighbors, then set up filtering so that unknown devices can only access your internet gateway, but not your internal machines.

    Also, it would be nice if laws were passed protecting owners of open networks from liability if someone uses them for a nefarious purpose, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  8. Juan Cubillo: if i got some one to set up my network and the didnt secure it properly i would be pissed off.

    if you feel that strongly about it you could at least ask them, and explain the advantages/disadvantages of securing wireless.

  9. mac address filtering will do you no good. i can easily spoof your mac after sniffing a couple packets. wireless is not secure, even if you think yours is. i can crack a wep encrypted ap in about 2 minutes. wpa is a bit better. if you use a passcode one would not find in any dictionary file, i probably can’t crack it. that’s not to say someone a little more 1337 than me cannot. ;)

  10. I’d like to leave my network open, but when I do, the neighbors latch onto it and use it for p2p rather than use slow down their own connection.

    another thing to think about leaving your connection open is what if someone use it to do illegal stuff?

  11. I didn’t really RTFA, but I’d like to say that laptop on the image (HP Pavilion 6xxx) is really nice running Linux.

    I own one HP dv6535ep and all hardware is supported. From ACPI sleep states to hotkeys, remote control, wifi, screen brightness, changing the videoout device using the kb hotkey, webcam, wifi, …

    I hope this helps someone looking for a Linux friendly laptop.

    DISCLAIMER: I’m not affiliated with HP nor hardware vendor nor any retail store. I’m just a happy Linux user that wishes the same for other people.

    Sorry for being off-topic, but that laptop on the image…

  12. my wifi is open… with a captive-portal… lol i share… i just don’t want bandwidth hogs…. so i limit each person to 100k down, and 25k up, more than enough for the causal person…. so if your in corbin,ky anything soon, stop by!!!

    internet is knowledge, knowledge is free!!! lets keep it that way!!!

  13. Maintaining an open internet connection is not the problem…the problem is exposing your network (private data) to the public. Hotspot sniffing and borrowing is a common tool for thieves, hackers, and anybody else up to no good on the internet. Drive around your neighborhood with your laptop on and refresh the available networks screen to see what I mean, or check out Kismac or Backtrack Final. The tools are out there for “kiddy hackers”, the motive is there…YOU decide how exposed you want to be. If you have files on your computer that you care about, allowing strangers into your network is not a good idea. Anything can be cracked, but leaving your network completely open is asking for a bad experience.

  14. Dumbest thing anyone could ever do,

    the TOS on any ISP states that the account holder is responsible for all traffic going across their network
    so you will have trouble fighting a court case if mr “i cant get enough child porn”, logged on to your wifi connected and downloaded some

    you will have your life permanently ruined it doesn’t matter if you say someone must have logged onto your wifi as the TOS says that your responsible no matter what

    and never use WEP as you just as well leave your wifi opened ant not loose any performance due to the encryption than use WEP, many programs will now crack them in a matter of seconds

    WPA is good if your password is not a dictionary word and is above 10 characters long (must be over 10, any less and brute forcing will be feasible. more than 10 will make brutforcing take very long as while a high end pc may do a few hundred million at a time, the router may only allow 10-50 at a time making it take a very long time

  15. Ok, here’s the deal… We **all** know wpa is better than wep. Brute force may be solved easily. And I’m really impressed that in the US the TOS for internet connections include a section stating that wireless **has** to be restricted. wtf?
    all this wireless security just adds to the paranoia everyone leaves on nowadays. neighbors downloading child porn? hackers driving around looking for spots to do their “mischievious” stuff? is this really happening on your homes??? try this out… open your wireless for 1 year. I promise nothing will happen. Just restrict your bandwidth for unkown guests and log every single mac address that gets on you network. dd-wrt is your friend on this.
    miked: you’re right… this isn’t a hack. but it should be approved.
    BTW, why doesn’t hackaday has some forums to talk about this? I’m sure many projects wouyld have been developed further by having them on a forum @ hackaday :D

  16. you cant honestly mean that they have to be in your drive way.

    My home made wifi antenna made from a old satellite dish can connect to wifi networks that would otherwise be only available from the driveway, from a few hundred feet away.

    it was based on one of the many tutorials for making one that I found by googling it

    there people in my area who generally try to connect to my network and will do brute force attacks, and disconnect packets in hopes of connecting, so what I do is I let them in then i monitor them for any passwords then i search through them for a phone number or anything then I call them and tell them to please stop trying to connect to my wireless network

    I only had to do that to one person (they live 2 houses away from me )

    it is never good to connect to someone else network because you never know if there monitoring you

    it is also highly illegal and a network monitor can provide proof

  17. I’m wondering if we should also leave the car unlocked and the keys inside to be polite. Why not our homes as well???

    Another thought is that if I should leave my Wi-Fi unlocked, should I be required to pay for it at all??

  18. MAC – STER: You can keep the network open for others and still have your internet privacy by using openVPN (like me) to encrypt the whole tcp/ip layer and above between your computer and gateway.

    OpenVPN offers better encryption than WPA and is way faster since are the gateway (mine is a computer) and laptop that processes the encryption instead of a little ARM machine :)

  19. This is all well and good if you aren’t having too pay for internet by the GB. Some backwards places (like NZ) have too pay for their internet bandwidth by the GB plus a flat rate connection fee. So for me too share my internet will cost me a fair amount of money each week and is not financially feasible for someone of my income.

  20. I use a mesh network, i.e. “Meraki” which automatically chunks off a portion of my Bandwidth for my “(Specific Area) Free Net” However I recently dealt with a retard that knows how to read a help file and install backtrack… The Minute He got on my freenet he tried to hack everything on the network… Fortunately the only WiFi product he destroyed was a POS Moto Q… ;) Because of this idiot, I intend to return to wired networks fully… The point of my post is as follows, ” Because of Immature Jackoffs Who think they can get a credit card number or two, I will remove not just the one access point but the 3 that create roughly a 300 Meter Internet Zone around my house… I WILL NEVER ALLOW PARASITIC LEECHES WHO CAN”T AFFORD THEIR OWN INTERNET ACCESS EVER AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. We have Wifi were I work, and we’ve found we needed to secure it. Now we have DSL and a truck lot behind us. Have you ever tried to check your e-mail with 20+ truckers trying to look at porn?

    But at home I don’t worry about it because I have a wifi modem, but I shut off the wireless when not in use.

  22. I just keep it open and have a message pop up when someone new connects to the network. If I do not know them I just ban their MAC (yes they can easily be spoofed) and none of the idiot neighbors are back on. Been clear of them for months.

    With that I was actually surprised by the range. One person was able to connect at a bit over 100m from my house. Just a standard Linksys 54mbps router too.

  23. I keep my network open out of necessity. My DSL modem has a built in 802.11b/g router, and even though it says it can do WPA, it has problems. I was told by my ISP I might as well use WEP, which is for “home users”. HA! I consider myself a power user/prosumer, and I get a bit paranoid. I would like to use WPA, but since I can only use WEP reliably, and I live in an area where not many people know what the internet is (Detroit), I just leave it open. That plus the fact I have a couple old wavelans (one is a Lucent Wavelan Gold, the other a Cabletron Roamabout, which AFAIK is a silver), they can only do WEP. But I use them in my newton and I can’t register the driver so no WEP for me.

  24. What’s with the big wi-fi obsession anyway? It has, as has been discussed here, limited security, your connection can be hijacked and your bandwidth consumed, has to cope with other electromagnetic interference, doesn’t offer constant bit rates and is defeated in many cases by a wall or any other solid object you decide to put near your computer (i.e. a coffee mug)

    Whereas cable connections the only entry is through your router which is far easier to protect, it doesn’t have to cope with interference or dropouts, provides constant bitrates and no-one has the chance to hijack your bandwidth. I’m never switching to wireless.

  25. What’s with all the posts of people advocating open wireless connections? You obviously don’t have a clue or are leechers of someone else’s bandwidth. I have wifi at home for only 1 laptop (WAP and MAC filtered, only device allowed) that goes on when I want to use the laptop and want to move it around the house. otherwise, the access point gets powered off.

    My neighbors could never hack into it, but in this litigious society, I don’t want anyone to have the chance to misuse it, and end up being responsible for that. Also, I PAY FOR IT. Want a connection? spend your own money! I want to hear everyone’s tune once ISPs start metering connections.

  26. Back in the day when poor, I got a free direct tv dish and a usb wifi adapter. I modded it all together with a free 586 pc running linux to snag free wifi from my neighbors. I had to go on the roof every 2-5 months to re-aim and grab another neighbor as they moved, changed gear, etc….

    I went for 4 years that way. I still have the gear for camping. go camping and snag wifi from 1/4 mile away easily.

  27. Okay so i’ve been reading these posts and I think Internet should be free, but not completely open… like I have my network wpa encrypted and I give the keys to people I trust… i/e friends, relatives, and some neighbors that I know won’t do illegal stuff on my net. if someone wanted to use it I would let them. All they have to do is ask!

  28. Haha, Insight Communications here in Illinois told us that is was okay to leave our network open and that we were free to share it with neighbors if we felt to do so (though it’s funny watching them sit on their front porch pointing the lid of their laptop towards our house). Then, I bricked my Linksys WRT54G and no one here could stand not having Wi-Fi for some 4 more hours of troubleshooting. I ended up buying a cheap Belkin and while going through the setup wizard, decided to lock us in. Turns out that besides that fact that Belkin has some pretty unreliable routers, password-protecting it isn’t all that big of a deal. I’m back on my WRT54G(v1) totally open.

  29. i dont mean to be a dick, really, but whenever i have something of questional legal stature to take care of, i just switch over to my neighbors network, i dont even have to move my laptop, and i live like 10 miles from the nearest gas station, if i lived in the city i would probably jump around on several connections including my own… hmmm, is there a program that can do that for me? interesting…

  30. I used to be a wifi thief like you, but then I got a wep key in the knee.

    This is one silly article…

    You wouldn’t leave your home unlocked for people to use just because its polite. Why would you allow strangers to use and affect the stability and throughput of your internet connection? Why would you allow strangers the freedom to use your internet connection as a means to download illegal content while you take the blame?

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