Why it's good to leave your WiFi open

Bruce Schneier has a wonderful essay up on Wired explaining why he runs an open wireless network at home -- and how that fits in with security. I've run open wireless networks since the late 1990s (in five cities in three countries) and I've never encountered the problems that everyone says are inevitable -- network contention, crap from my ISP, busts for the child-porn my neighbors are downloading from my network.

Instead, I've provided network access to innumerable people -- people like me: I can't count the number of times I've had my ass saved by an open wireless network at the right moment (e.g., in good time to help me look up directions, a phone number, or flight details). I figure the more open wireless I provide to the world, the more people I'll turn on to providing their own open wireless access, and the more open WiFi I'm likely to find.

To me, it's basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea. But to some observers, it's both wrong and dangerous...

I remain unconvinced of this threat, though. The RIAA has conducted about 26,000 lawsuits, and there are more than 15 million music downloaders. Mark Mulligan of Jupiter Research said it best: "If you're a file sharer, you know that the likelihood of you being caught is very similar to that of being hit by an asteroid."

I'm also unmoved by those who say I'm putting my own data at risk, because hackers might park in front of my house, log on to my open network and eavesdrop on my internet traffic or break into my computers. This is true, but my computers are much more at risk when I use them on wireless networks in airports, coffee shops and other public places. If I configure my computer to be secure regardless of the network it's on, then it simply doesn't matter. And if my computer isn't secure on a public network, securing my own network isn't going to reduce my risk very much.



  1. Thank you! I figure I’ve used enough unsecured networks in my time that my WiFi should “spread some love” too.

    Never had a security problem.

  2. To me, it’s basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea.
    Agreed, but I think that my definition and your definition of who constitutes a guest differs.
    Guests are people I know and have invited to share my hospitality, not a stranger who pulls up outside my house hoping to score some free web access.

  3. I don’t worry about people who use the light from my porch to read a map — their use of my photons doesn’t impede my enjoyment of them. Likewise, I’ve never experienced contention with my public wireless. “Hey stop harmlessly stealing my radio waves” just seems silly.

  4. If strangers came to my door asking for food, I’d give them some. Why not WiFi?

  5. That’s an interesting perspective. However, from a consumer standpoint, the security reasons you shouldn’t use open unknown wifi connections are really obvious. It is not hard, if one has control of the packets, to hijack someone’s session and screw with how they see/interact with the internet.

    I could easily go to an airport, setup a ‘FREE Public WiFi’ peer-to-peer network on my laptop, wait for someone to connect, and then serve them up a fake paypal.com or any other website.

    If you MUST use untrusted connections, please, SSH tunnel or otherwise use encryption.

  6. So 1 in 600 music downloaders gets sued. Do I really have a 1 in 600 chance of being hit by an asteroid? Or have 26,000 people been hit by asteroids as well and I haven’t heard anything about it?

  7. Yeah, some people are a bit particular about their “property.” I’d be annoyed if every car that wanted to pull a U-turn on my street decided to use my driveway.

    I remember the people on my cul-de-sac (sp?) not liking all the cars that just came up and drove around it it when I was a kid.

    That said, I leave my wifi open, but put a basic request as the SSID, something like: DoNoEvil.

  8. Heck, we named our network in a recognizable way so that our neighbors would know who we were. One of our neighbors shares her itunes library, which includes recordings of her opera work.

    I suppose if we were organized about it, we could have cable modem and DSL in the building, and share the costs, so that if one provider went down, the other network could be accessed by wireless.

  9. Mine is called “doctorow@craphound.com free wifi” — I get emails from people thanking me for leaving it open.

  10. Cory, I did read the article, and the only vulnerabilites he comments on are hackers snooping the wireless provider’s packets, not the other way around. The vulnerability I am warning against affects the person using the open network – the guy who opened it up could serve you basically whatever he wants.

  11. Last night my roommates and I came home from a get-together and were trying to find parking on our street. Since today is trash day, everyone had their garbage up on the curb to allow ample parking for everyone. Except one guy who had put his dumpsters on the street blocking off a perfectly good parking spot. We took it upon ourselves to move the bins and park. As I was getting out of the car, I hear a voice coming from the window of the apartment where we had parked.

    “You can’t do that.”


    “You cannot move the trash cans”

    “We just did”

    “Do not touch my trash cans.”

    “uh.. i won’t touch your cans again”

    What sort of NIMBY dumbassery is THAT? Look around you, friends. Is everyone chill? Then relax, take precautions, but continue to be a good neighbor and a friendly part of an information sharing community.

    Sadly, I’m the only one with an unlocked network on my entire block.

  12. I had my wireless open for several years. Like you mentioned, it was great to be hospitable to people who just needed a few minutes of wireless to save their tails. And I’ve had many times when a person’s open wifi saved my tail.

    That said, I just closed mine at my house. As a father, I got creeped out by a sick-o looking guy spending more than a few minutes in the back of his minivan. About 10 minutes into it, feeling ill, I rebooted the router, added a password, and watched him drive off.

  13. I’ve run an open wireless network at my house for many years without a problem. I agree with Cory – it’s not only polite, it’s also not really dangerous.

    I’ve worried about the crime-on-borrowed-wireless angle before, but realized that if someone wanted to commit a crime that involved internet access, they would be much better off doing it at a coffee shop or other public place. Doing it off a residential wireless network would nail down a geographical location that would, in all likelihood, be close to where they live.

    The internet is inherently public, so any fiddling that might be done at the “local” level with your wifi could also be done upstream, at the ISP, or upstream from there. The payback would be much greater (and more likely) going after those targets versus a single wireless network. Pork’s scenario would only work in his specific example – if someone tried that at my house, I wouldn’t connect to their bogus peer-to-peer network. Why would I when my own is available? And .. I wouldn’t pay bills at a coffee shop, airport, etc. But again that’s a separate issue from running an open network at home.

    Lulu: I had the same thought. An asteroid death, while cool, is probably a lot less common than 1 in 600. I’ve heard the same comparison before, and it’s pretty silly.

    Isn’t an open wireless network a defense against RIAA lawsuits anyway? I could’ve sworn that the RIAA dropped at least one lawsuit due to that defense.

  14. I WAS totally open to the idea until I got slapped with a $50 fee from my ISP. I guess one of my neighbors decided to run a huge P2P network via my open WiFi network and racked up a 20 GB upload and 50 GB download on my account.

    After much back and forth with my ISP they said that it was ultimately my own fault. They are only a “utility” company providing a basic service and like the water or electric company they can’t be help liable if someone “steals” a connection. Ever since then I’ve kept a secure WiFi, sad but true. Perhaps we need a service like Spanish “fon” here in North America to really make this work. http://www.fon.com/en/

  15. I hate having to hunt for open networks, or finding out what the password is at a friends house. So i leave mine open. its karma. I’m just one extra open point for someone on their search.

    check out the FON program. i actually got a free wireless router through them.

  16. Schneier suggests a service called Fon, which is essentially a community of wifi sharers and a router with two signals. One signal is encrypted and private and for the homeowner; the second is open and public and for other members of the Fon community.

    I suppose if one possessed a spare wifi router, something similar could be set up; one router for sharing and another for hiding behind.

  17. One day, I received a strange phone call from my (now former) boss, asking me to come in for a meeting to discuss commissions.

    When I arrived, breathless with anticipation of finally (finally!) getting paid these overdue commissions, I was instead hustled into a room with two foreboding strangers. They were detectives from the Vancouver, WA police department.

    They grilled me about my IP address, what kind of laptop I had, etc. until they gave up and revealed that a stolen laptop had been detected on my IP address. I explained that there was a public park across the street from my apartment, so it was likely the crooks used my open wifi to do their dastardly deeds, which was pirating music files.

    The detectives lightened up quite a bit and became very friendly. We had a great talk about their jobs, how they find stolen computers, pirating music (“we couldn’t care less,” they said). They warned me that if the crooks had downloaded child porn over my connection, I would be in a legal morass trying to prove that I had no involvement. When child porn is in the mix, the law comes down hard. I would have needed a lawyer, they told me.

    Scary stuff. I went home and secured that connection post haste.

  18. Right on. I keep mine open for the same reasons.

    I use a High Power Buffalo router with the open-source firmware called Tomato. It allows me to set a few rules so that any aliens using my wireless have a few light limitations imposed on them, and I have it set to give me a QOS advantage, so if my service is approaching saturation, the alien’s packets slow down before my own do.

    I have never noticed even the slightest of slowdowns caused by outside users.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a splash screen using NoCatSplash so that I can tell people they’re welcome to use my wifi as long as they’re well-behaved, and encourage them to do the same if they ever operate their own access point.

  19. There are really three responses in my book:
    1. Free love. I like this one the most, as it seems Cory does.
    2. Greedy selfish… to the Nth degree. Aka it’s mine, don’t touch it! This is how most people feel about something they pay for every month, or that’s my best guess in any case.
    3. Scared into security. I don’t want to go to court because some child molester met with my neighbor’s little girl, and used my ‘net connection to talk with her on myspace/facebook and set the meeting time. Or be the access point over which was shared the latest movie screener two weeks before it hit theaters.

    I fall into the third section. I’m not big-hearted enough to risk my life savings to defend sharing a resource that anyone can use simply by hitting the Starbucks around the corner. Ah well!

  20. “Guests are people I know and have invited to share my hospitality, not a stranger who pulls up outside my house hoping to score some free web access.”

    We are all in this together, but we all die alone.

  21. Alfie (12), you should find out what the law in your area says about trash cans. Here in Brooklyn, you’re liable for a ticket if you leave them anywhere but on the sidewalk; likewise if you put them out when it isn’t a garbage pickup day. The usual reason people will put cans in the street is that they’re trying to reserve the parking space. If I had your neighbor, I’d assume that was what he was trying to do.

  22. #22: I am scared of that as well. Do you think it is traceable what MAC address downloaded the wrong files through your router?

  23. Perhaps you crazy kids can help a senior citizen out here; (excuse me if I drop out here and there, the rubber cups on my modem are dried out and cracked):

    What’s it take in current hardware (that will fit in a van)to set up a node that would support wifi file sharing among say, 500 users? The idea being that you would receive a face to face invite (with a one use key) to attend an event location somewhere (they used to call them “raves” , heh heh) ,show up with your lap top and share files with like minded people out of the prying electronic sight of the RIAA and other instruments of Satan?

    Oh yeah, they could serve drinks and dance too.

    Oh, I suppose they already do this, but I don’t get out much these days (cackle, wheeze)

  24. I leave my wireless open, and occasionally my laptop will glom onto a neighbor’s open wireless or they’ll use mine. I’ve only had a problem once – my neighbor’s laptop got pwned and was using my wireless to send spam. Since I use a small customer-friendly ISP instead of a big cable modem or telco, my ISP called about the problem, and we checked that it was the wireless and not my PC, so I turned it off temporarily and contacted my neighbors who cleaned up their laptop. It was interesting that the spamware preferred to use the harder-to-trace wireless instead of her wired connection.

    Unfortunately, the wireless encryption protocols are really designed for corporate access control – I’d prefer to encrypt my wireless link but leave the access open for guests.

    A friend of mine used to leave his access open until the neighbor’s kid discovered file sharing. He didn’t think there was a significant legal risk, but it was burning enough bandwidth that it interefered with his own usage. Some routers may be smart enough to do fair queuing on the bandwidth, but at least back then it wasn’t common.

  25. Glad so many of us are of the same mind– dig that “reading a map by my porch light” analogy, and I’m changing my SSID when I get home to include my email and welcome guests.

    But then I’m the sort of person to puts potted plants outside my door on the street, not worrying about somebody stealing or dogs peeing on them.

    Service providers of all stripes must be scratching their heads bald worrying about what’ll happens when WiMax hits…

  26. As someone who syphons a very fast wireless connection off my unbeknownst neighbor (gratis), I feel that if the person doesn’t care or is ignorant to the fact that they can lock their connection, then it becomes free for all once those waves leave their apartment.

    Even if they locked it, I would not be averse to knocking on their door and offering to pay part of the bill (saving me a comcast or verizon subscription/contract and both of us getting a discount, in a sense) thus guaranteeing myself exclusive access to their network. Call me a cheap bastard, but I would do the same for anyone else, and until they do block it, I’ll use it. I am surprised more people don’t advertise within they apartment complexes to share connections to split the costs of ISP bills.

  27. I get a craptacular cable modem connection free with my lease; it is sufficiently unreliable that I use my DSL for my home machines. Being a geek, I’ve a vast amount of minor networking crap about. So, I hooked up a spare Wireless AP to it, and it sits there, open and free to the world.

  28. Also: setting up my sister’s wireless network a few years ago– my lawyer sister with huge confidential cases– she insisted that I keep her network open. She gave me a lawyerly reasons that surprised me:
    * It’s her IT department’s job to make sure people don’t steal data; she has to use networks for work and it’s fine. She knows what https means.
    * There’s no way she can be held responsible for stuff she can’t reasonably monitor.

  29. I’d like to see something like JJasper was talking about. Why can’t like-minded neighbors get the super mega DSL or cable internet and then pipe it to each other either by wifi or Point-2-Point directional wireless? At least there are some people who are open minded enough to see the bigger picture and share their radio waves.

  30. It’s great fun when my neighbours snag my wi-fi then download movies all night on it, reducing my browsing speed to a crawl.

  31. Re: “#22: I am scared of that as well. Do you think it is traceable what MAC address downloaded the wrong files through your router?”

    For most, yes. But it’s not so simple as all that, unfortunately. If I may venture a guess, the logic you are hoping to use is “No PC in my house has that MAC address, so don’t prosecute me/disconnect me/jail me!”

    Although I like the idea, there is no way to prove that you never owned a PC with that MAC address. It’s proving a negative, which isn’t possible unless the actual device with that MAC address is located and they can nail that user and let you off the hook. As they say, somebody has to pay!

    So in short, as ideal and nice as it is to leave it hanging out there, I’m not willing to risk my reputation/money/livelihood just to help random strangers a little bit.

  32. no thanks. I’d really rather not give my entire neighborhood free access to the fileserver where I keep all my stuff and make regular backups.

    And to anyone who suggests that I should put security on the server to protect it from the people I’m sharing free wifi with, I will suggest that you put deadbolts on every door in your house and then leave your front door unlocked so that random strangers can come hang out in your living room whenever they want, but can’t go into your room and poop on your bed while you sleep.

  33. I don’t see that much wrong with letting strangers sleep in my front room if I can definitely keep them out of my private affairs, either.

    The issue I’ve always had with either of these notions is volume volume volume. I don’t mind one random person a night on my couch, but I can’t handle, say, ten, or fifty. Same is true of my WiFi. I leave it open when I’m not doing anything myself, but when I need the bandwidth, I have to close it off again. My neighbors tend to overwhelm it given the chance, leaving me with precious little left to, say, build in Second Life while downloading lesbian porn. Now, once I upgrade my bandwidth again, this may become less an issue, but for now I can’t do my own work if I have an open WiFi.

  34. Hunty: locking down your stuff internally is a good idea regardless and kind of a separate issue; I don’t think people are suggesting you don’t use any security– server connections at home should be protected and secure, but in a way that’s transparent to you– deadbolts are one thing, think Star Trek automated doors who know who’s who. My Mac, TiVo, PC’s and printers won’t talk to anybody from the outside, but they’re sure talking to each other– the only thing open to a guest is a WiFi pipe to the intertubes; the rest of my LAN is opaque.

    CopyDeskCat: seems useful to figure out how to throttle your guests’ access; too bad wireless router software can be so [expletives deleted]…

  35. I’ve got my wifi locked down. Mostly because I do a lot of P2P and I don’t care to share my bandwith. Sure I could set up rules to limit that but when giving other people free net access = work for me, sorry but they are out of luck. I’ll give to charity or get my good karma points in some other fashion. Espescially when there are tons of places in my hometown that offer free net access.

    If that makes me a jerk in some people’s eyes fine. But on the flip side I’m one of the few people I know that holds the door for others so, go figure.

  36. I live in a very rural area, and a surprising number of my elderly neighbors not only don’t use the net, they still have old black bakelite telephones with cloth cords and stamped-steel dials. Thus, if anyone’s going to borrow my wireless, it’ll likely be exactly the sort of situation Scheier and others figure: someone who’s lost and needs to GoogleMap their way out of trouble. I’ve done it plenty of times… often, if I’m driving down I-95 in rural North or South Carolina, I’ll pull into a cheap motel that offers “free internet” and borrow their connection for just long enough to find what I need. I am in tune enough with my connection at home that if some was suddenly doing warez P2P or porn I’d find out about it pretty quick (and they’d find out how crappy my router is under heavy load).

  37. So… I suppose I could use my rural-situated connection as kind of a trip wire for noticing those distressed travellers….. a-yep, some of them got pretty mouths….

  38. I have the cradlepoint router, if someone wants to use my connection they can ask via chat from the router, pretty nifty. They can connect to my network and it loads a chat page. No one has asked yet. I would say yes if someone did.

    I use a sprint wireless card(canned Time Warner after a massive F up and generally shitty service) and the above router as my only source of net. It bogs down pretty easily so I keep mine closed….maybe all of you fancy high speed having mofos can be so generous….but when your bandwidth ain’t so wide….

  39. I just did posted an interview we did with Bruce Schneier on the future of security. Really interesting stuff. He also did one of the keynotes at our annual conference (EDUCAUSE).

    Here’s the interview:


    Here’s the speech.

  40. If the world is filled with the likes of Cory Doctorow, then I certainly wouldn’t mind sharing my bandwidth so that they can check their e-mail, lookup directions, read boingboing to pass time, etc. But our world isn’t like that. Where I live, my President and government think basic rights, like due process, innocent until proven guilty, etc., do not exist especially if it involves any notion of terrorism or “national security.” And we have, for good reasons, very little tolerance for child porn, but we’re pretty quick to judge, and very slow to forgive and reconcile.

    So if some sicko happens to surf for kiddie porn, or visit/blog a “questionable” (especially if it looks Islamic), and my friendly government authorities just happen to get a whiff of it, I would be royally fucked. Schneier even admits that with prosecutors being less than tech savvy, I’d probably be charged with a crime despite my innocence, and in cases of child porn cases, most defense lawyers recommend plea bargain (ie., plead guilty), which means, as a registered sex offender, your choice of finding living quarters will be severely limited (provided you survive your prison term), and you certainly will have a hard time getting back to where you were in life before the cops burst through your front door.

    I disagree with Schneir when he says he doesn’t think it’s much of a risk. It IS a big risk, since the consequences of being labeled a kiddie porn sicko or a terrorist often mean months or years behind bars, financial ruin, and general destruction of a person’s life. It would be far better to die in an airplane crash. Maybe a well known guy like Bruce can amass good lawyers and publicity, but for most Joes, their lives will forever be ruined. You may have a higher chance of dying a horrible death in an airplane crash, but I’d rather suffer that and lock down my network than to suffer the hell innocent people go through when they’re wrongly labeled a criminal.

  41. What are good options for modulating bandwidth?

    I’m a huge believer in open WiFi but a few weeks ago, I had to shut mine off. Someone in the neighborhood appears to be a huge bandwidth hog, making it impossible for me to do my work. I hate having locked WiFi, but I don’t know how to make certain that I can get what I need and leave the rest for anyone who wants it.

    My ideal situation would be that when I’m online, I get to be the complete bandwidth hog. When I’m not online, everyone else can duke it out. I have an Airport Extreme and a Mac. Is there anything that I can do to intelligently control the bandwidth so that I don’t have to close down my network?

  42. @Pork Musket (Nos. 5, 11 & 14)

    It doesn’t seem like anyone has really replied to the point you’re raising, so I’ll give it a try. I have to say, though, it seems that if you have read Schneier’s article, as Mr. Doctorow implores you to do, you are misunderstanding the point being made and, hopefully unintentionally, introducing a degree of FUD to the discussion here.

    As has been pointed out, and as you observe yourself, the example you provided isn’t terribly malicious. It’s on par with trying to connect to what appears to be an open network only to find that it doesn’t provide a connection to the Internet. No big deal.

    But the point you’re trying to make, obviously, is that if you’re using an open network and you enter your bank account information, that information can be recorded by people running the network you’re using. Okay, that seems intuitively plausible.

    But so what?

    This situation means that when one is using an open local network as an Internet connection, one should avoid transmitting sensitive information over that connection. That seems like good advice and is a kind of low-level common sense for using the Internet on par with “Don’t double-click on unexpected attachments that purport to be naked pictures of Martina Navratilova,” et cetera.

    No matter how useful, I think we can get off the “Can we really trust the Internet?” train of thought at this point — that is not what is being discussed here.

    Schneier and Doctorow are writing about running an open network, not accessing one.

    To the extent that he addresses being vulnerable while using one’s own open local network, Schneier actually uses exactly the argument you’re raising, except in reverse — you should be focusing on securing your computer, not your network. From his article:

    “[M]y computers are much more at risk when I use them on wireless networks in airports, coffee shops and other public places. If I configure my computer to be secure regardless of the network it’s on, then it simply doesn’t matter. And if my computer isn’t secure on a public network, securing my own network isn’t going to reduce my risk very much.”

    So the point Schneier and Doctorow are making stands — the risk of running an open local network is lower than it may seem to be and the benefits largely outweigh that risk.

  43. say i bought an old product, an original airport express for example, and there was no way to get the software to secure the router if you were running windows vista, even though there was software available that would work. Say, just for the sake of argument apple refuses to make the latest version of the software downloadable. Say you even emailed them and asked for it and they told you they couldn’t help. if you got arrested and locked up for downloading child porn and could later show it was someone else using your unsecurable network, would you have a case against apple? because i might just have a get rich quick plan.

  44. @51 – thanks for taking the time to reply. I certainly did not intend to add FUD, I know many people that aren’t familiar with network architecture and how things work, especially wireless. I just wanted to add a warning since the article portrays open and unsecured networks as typically run by happy folks willing to share, with good intentions. While mostly true, there’s no harm in warning and educating folks that may not be as computer oriented.

    Please don’t perceive this as more FUD (the article gives a nod to folks like Schneier), but here is an example found on Slashdot of a man who was arrested for using another man’s unsecured network. The network owner obviously didn’t educate himself on wireless, and other parties paid for the owner’s ignorance.

    I’m a trusting person, but I’m also skeptical. Learn everything you can about the decisions you make. You can’t manage risk if you don’t know it’s there.

  45. Along with #48, I would like to be pointed in a tutorial direction. I have left my router open and named “linksys” for as long as I’ve had it. I agree with the principle of leaving it open, but it’s also because I don’t fully understand how to manage it otherwise. Plus, as has been said aplenty, when my friends and mom come over, they turn on their laptops and go. seems so easy.

    but seriously, can someone point me in the direction of where to learn? I obviously know how to type in boingboing.net, but more than that I… um… not have way.

  46. WikiHow has a decent summary of the things involved in securing a network, although you may want to keep google handy as a glossary (define:term searches are great). This is a high level view – for specific procedures you’d need to look in the manual for your router. I would definitely recommend checking to see if your router supports OpenWRT, which is essentially an embedded linux install that replaces your router’s OEM firmware, and typically opens up MUCH more functionality like bandwidth throttling and Quality of Service (QoS) filters. I know that all sounds daunting, but it’s not hard. Start here: http://wiki.x-wrt.org/index.php/Installation_Guide

    If anyone has questions, feel free to email me at brawest@gmail.com. One caveat is to check that your hardware can handle the encryption you use. Older adapters may not play well with WPA/WPA2.

    Another option is to secure via MAC address, which allows you to only allow chosen wireless adapters to connect. It can be tedious to implement if you have a large network, but if you add mom’s laptop’s MAC address, it will always ‘just work’. Also, wireless encryption is relatively easy to crack, so MAC address lists are an additional, effective layer.

    Hopefully some of that is helpful!

  47. We run an open wireless network – but it`s a bit different from the situations talked about here. Our router is an older, but very nice model. It doesn`t natively support wireless. We use a separate wireless router. It`s not technically part of our household network, as we don`t really use wireless for anything other than game consoles. They don`t require access to our file server, etc. And if someone feels the desire to hijack our online gaming, good for them.

    We have a 100Mbps (although we only get about half of that in reality) connection with the wireless limited to 8Mbps which is more than fast enough for any valid uses. We definitely never feel any slow-down as a result of someone using our connection. As it`s used mainly by kids in our building, we call it “room-101 free wireless”. We occasionally are thanked, and have even gotten a note put into our post by a thankful person who needed to look up a map to get to their sister`s wedding.

    I doubt I would continue it though if it was included in our household network. I like keeping our file server open and on 24/7, which would have to change if our networks situations changed. (Not that we have anything particularly sensitive on it.)

  48. Wow, you guys live in nice countries. Here in ZA, bandwidth is so expensive, you don’t dare let anyone else use even just a little bit of it. Plus, the average cap is just 1Gb, so there’s really not that much to go around.

    That said, even if was really cheap, I don’t think I would leave mine open, for all of the reasons listed above.

  49. I’ve gone with Fon to share my connection. The la Fonera router limits the connection speed to 512k, can be configured to allow 15 free minutes in return for an advert, and allows a bit of optional profit sharing if someone buys a pass from your AP. Fon has done a deal with BT where members can use their Openzone service for free (actually, this might just be for BT ADSL customers – I haven’t checked it), as well as free connection to other Fon hotspots. The downside is that I live in a residential area and the range of the router isn’t brilliant, even with the extender, and my village isn’t exactly a hotbed of technology. Looking on their maps confirms that this is the case for much of Leeds, and I presume many other cities in the UK and elsewhere that have a large suburban population. Still, as ‘open’ wi-fi goes, it’s a good compromise between truly open and locked down.

  50. My apartment complex originally had our connection open for the whole neighborhood, but we got tired of people taking it down using p2p irresponsibly,and unfortunately because of the way the system was set up, blocking them by MAC didn’t work.

    We finally locked it down and required all the residents who wished to use it to change their network IDs to match their apartment addresses. Anyone not named properly gets IP blocked, and anyone caught using P2P (which only happens if it slows the network down enough that the owner or I notice) gets blocked at least til the owner talks to them and they promise to stop.

    Oh, and we use QOS and so on, but that doesn’t stop the excessive wireless traffic from taking the router out (though at least with the latest firmware patch it reboots itself instead of just hanging til someone power cycles it).

  51. Thank you for saying that there is little danger. I have always said if those people who are super security conscience about their network connections applied the same overkill to their home security their houses would be fortresses. All the windows would have bars or even lock down metal screens, the doors would be metal and they would have 6 locks with 6 different combinations!


  52. To me, it’s basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea.

    Any of which I’ll be more than happy to provide to an actual guest whom I’ve invited into my house. If they’re my guest, I’ll gladly give them the SSID (which is not broadcast on my wireless network) and the passphrase. But I don’t go out into the street and chase down random passers-by to offer them a cup of tea – why would I do the equivalent by allowing them unrestricted access to my wifi?

    In a perfect world, I’d agree with Cory. But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s a long way from a perfect world. I’m not willing to take this kind of risk just so I can do some stranger a favor.

  53. I recommend this thread:
    started by Dane Jasper of Sonic.net

    Sonic.net customers can put a wifi access point up that lets neighbors log in directly to Sonic. Most of those are up around Santa Rosa, CA, but the’re scattered throughout the customer base elsewhere as well.

    Mr. Jasper distinguishes this from FON, and has commented on the problems that a system like FON create for ISPs like Sonic.

    He’s continued to participate there and answered a good many questions.

    (He also has a blog now: http://corp.sonic.net/blog/ )

    I know FON has some cooperative projects with ISPs, but I’m still wondering how a small ISP can survive if a lot of its customers start sharing their connection via FON. The business model has to be priced based on some expectation of how much use each line is getting.

    I’m guessing (pure uninformed guess) that FON will have to start setting up its own ISP connections to feed the network of FON devices eventually — won’t individual people figure out that once the system gets dense enough, they can just keep their FON device and cancel their own personal ISP and use their neighbors’?

  54. My dad’s a cop. He does child porn investigations, and while he’s never heard of anyone being mistakenly arrested because of an open network he has had a few cases that hit a brick wall. If the cops have any sense at all your not going to get arrested or even really investigated if a pervert jumps your connection. its just going to make it difficult to find the pervert in question.

    Besides that in college I ran an open network, as did my neighbors who were good friends of mine. they’re internet went down and they never bothered to fix it so they ended up jumping my connection for around two months. the added burden of three extra computers running WOW left my connection running at a crawl whenever I went to use it. I probably wouldn’t have minded if they had told me about it or made any effort to have their connection fixed before I yelled them.

    For these two reasons I run a closed network now.

  55. I run an open network in part for the reasons that Cory and Bruce point out.

    Plus, it’s an interesting IT exercise. I have a good firewall (astaro) and the AP is on the DMZ. I’d never really get an opportunity to run a three-netted firewall without something useful on the DMZ.

    I can monitor usage (well, at least it get logged), and if a cop knocked on my door about child porn, I’d be able to find the MAC address of the offender from firewall logs (DHCP logs). If I were inclined, there’s a way to limit the bandwidth on the DMZ or prioritize non-DMZ traffic, or etc.

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