Sharing WiFi Connections

Reader baald pointed me to a discussion at thegearpage, where a user asked whether utilizing someone else’s unsecured WiFi access point was tantamount to theft. Amazingly, this is a not-uncommon perception, and people have even been arrested for availing themselves of publicly accessible WiFi signals (which is insane).

My take: If I’m sitting in my car outside your house and can access your WiFi signal without a password, you are transmitting an open signal into my space. How is that not an invitation to use it? You’re literally bombarding me with with signal and simultaneously telling me I can’t use it?

I’ll go further: Anyone paying for a broadband connection is only using a tiny fraction of it and, IMO, practically has an obligation to share it, in the interest of making life better for everyone. We want to get to a point where wifi flows freely, like water out of public drinking fountains. When you pay for a signal and have tons of it to spare, you can / should help the world approach that nirvana.

That doesn’t mean you should be stupid about it. You should make sure your home network is secure and un-surfable. You should only share the TCP/IP, not LAN access. Big difference.


A) Ideally, everyone with a connection shares that connection — but does so smartly.

B) Yes, one should be able to safely assume that a non-protected hotspot is there as a public service.

While sharing a connection is against the Terms of Service of some ISPs, others think more like their users — British Telecom actually encourages their users to share the love.

Update: Security expert Bruce Schneir also leaves his home Wifi network unsecured, for all the same reasons.

Music: Kimya Dawson :: Loose Lips

11 Replies to “Sharing WiFi Connections”

  1. Scot, Fon is aimed directly at points A) and B) in your post here. It’s basically a wifi router that gives you a private (secure) network you can use in your home, plus a simultaneous public network that you can use to share all that excess bandwidth you’ve got.

    As a bonus, having a Fon router and keeping it on gives you free access to anyone’s Fon router anywhere in the world.

    So “not something I have a need for” sounds a bit like “I wish all you guys would share your wi-fi networks, but I can’t be bothered to do it myself.”

    Unless you’re using a homebrew solution — in which case I’d love to hear how you do it!


  2. All I’m saying is that you don’t need dedicated hardware to share your wifi connection – just secure your internal LAN properly and leave your standard wifi connection non-password-protected.

  3. Good point… but then data going over your wifi connection is still susceptible to sniffing. Wifi security isn’t just about keeping people out — it’s also about keeping your own datastream private.

    If you want to share your connection, but not your data, you need some kind of 2-network solution. Or else make sure everything is encrypted whenever you use a wifi network.

    (You see, there is a reason why I like to use pine via ssh to read my email!)

  4. There is absolutely no way I will share an Internet connection with the world as long as the RIAA and MPAA are indiscriminately litigious.

    Anything anyone does via your connection reflects on you.

  5. @Dylan: If you use only SSL pop/imap, and SFTP rather than FTP, and only HTTPS websites when entering passwords, you have little to worry about. But of course that’s a lot to ask/expect from non-techy users. I believe there are ways to “segment” your network without dedicated hardware so that you can use some of it privately and still share the rest of it with the public – effectively run two wifi networks at once. But I haven’t looked into that. I just share mine openly. It’s here for the taking. Drive by the house and help yourself – bandwidth is meant to be shared.

    @mneptok: Good point about others activities reflecting on the bandwidth sharer. Though Michael Joel makes the point that by sharing openly and advertising that you’re doing so, you’re essentially in the position of an ISP – a disinterested provider and off the hook legally. Not sure how that would actually play out in court.

  6. In your case (and mine), the “I had *NO* idea this was happening! This wireless stuff is *hard*!” wouldn’t pass a court’s “giggle test,” I’m afraid.

    And if it did, it would work once. After lengthy court proceedings. And your attorney fees.

  7. Perhaps. Though I would be truthful in saying I do NO monitoring of traffic on my wifi network. But I probably couldn’t prove it. But then the burden of proof would be on them to show that I HAD been monitoring it.

    I’m certainly not going to worry about it until I have cause to.

  8. I get someone else wi-fi connection and it works, I unplugged my pc one day and its still online so thats fine I have noting in my pc to hide so ill use it lol

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