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Is someone using your Wi-Fi connection for free?

It may be wrong and it’s certainly illegal but according to a recent survey we have conducted, one in two Wi-Fi users in the UK still access someone else’s wireless Internet network without permission.

Wi-Fi ‘piggybacking’ has been around since the dawn of wireless computing, with people obtaining free Web access by using networks which have been left unsecure because the owner has not set a password. Over half (58 per cent) of the 300 respondents we surveyed around the UK admitted to the practice. What’s more, almost one in three people believe there’s nothing wrong with it – despite the fact that dishonestly using an electronics communications service with the intent to avoid paying is an
offence under the Communications Act 2003.

The perception is that borrowing a bit of bandwidth is cheeky but not really criminal behaviour. There’s also a view that if someone does not take the trouble to password-protect their wireless network they have to accept the consequences. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, if you don’t make your system secure, you are at the very least likely to end up paying for someone else to have the privilege of accessing the Web. It will also slow your use of the internet. You are also leaving yourself open to risk. In most cases of bandwidth theft is simply about people wanting to avoid paying for services. But occasionally, piggybacking is used as a means of hiding illegal downloading activity or engaging in identity theft.

There is also a lack of Wi-Fi security training for business users.Some 84 per cent of business users access Wi-Fi networks outside the office, yet only 11 per cent are given any specific guidance as to protecting sensitive information when using a public Wi-Fi network.

Many business users don’t think twice about logging onto free Wi-Fi in café’s or using their hotel’s wireless network when travelling, but the truth is, although convenient, open wireless networks also carry some risk. More people are working remotely and using wireless technology than ever before. The education of risk tends to lack behind the technology.

I recommend that companies develop security guidelines for employees to follow. Important measures to include:

  • As a minimum, verify that your device firewall is turned on and make sure that Windows’ file-sharing feature is turned off – both offer ways to potentially access you PC through a wireless connection.
  • And if you use any form of file sharing (even with family members) then you should make sure your computer is password protected with a suitably complicated password (mix of letters, numbers and symbols at least 8 characters long). Without this you have an open route to your computer, particularly when using open wireless networks.

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