Network security firm Sophos recently published a study on what it terms WiFi "piggybacking," or logging on to someone's open 802.11b/g/n network without their knowledge or permission. According to the company's study, which was carried out on behalf of The Times, 54 percent of the respondents have gone WiFi freeloading, or as Sophos put it, "admitted breaking the law [in the UK]."
Amazingly, accessing an unsecured, wide-open WiFi network without permission is illegal in some places, and not just in the UK. An Illinois man was arrested and fined $250 in 2006 for using an open network without permission, while a Michigan man who parked his car in front of a café and snarfed its free WiFi was charged this past May with "Fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks." On top of that, it's common to read stories about WiFi "stealing" in the mainstream media.
It's time to put an end to this silliness. Using an open WiFi network is no more "stealing" than is listening to the radio or watching TV using the old rabbit ears. If the WiFi waves come to you and can be accessed without hacking, there should be no question that such access is legal and morally OK. If your neighbor runs his sprinkler and accidentally waters your yard, do you owe him money? Have you done something wrong? Have you ripped off the water company? Of course not. So why is it that when it comes to WiFi, people start talking about theft?
The issue is going to come to a head soon because more and more consumer electronics devices are WiFi-enabled, and many of them, including Apple's iPhone and most Skype phones we've used, come ready out of the box to auto-connect to open WiFi networks. Furthermore, as laptop sales continue to grow even beyond desktops, the use of open WiFi is only going to grow along with it.
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