Ah, wireless internet, not just a convenience these days but a necessity. How far into the woods would you need to go to not find any wireless networks? Better yet, how about unsecured wireless networks?
I remember reading an article a couple of years ago about how it is more noble to leave your home wifi network unsecured and open to the world. If only we all shared our networks and wifi was available everywhere and for everyone. It sounds generous, and will probably make you the favorite neighbour. It is also a really really bad idea.
There are two main risks with any wireless network:
The first risk is the security of your personal data. This means everything from family pictures to credit card data. Default folders for pictures, videos, and documents are often automatically configured for sharing over a local network. This means anyone connected to your wireless has exactly the same access as being plugged right into your router, it is the same network. In addition, a “sniffer” can be used to collect all data, right down to keystrokes, that travels over your network. This is often how credit card or email account passwords are stolen.
The second risk is what your internet connection is being used for. Anything that goes on in your network is going to appear to be you. In almost all cases the activities of others is indistinguishable from your own. So why is this such a big deal? Well, whether it is copyrighted material or child pornography, the onus is on you to prove your innocence should your account be investigated for illegal activity. This is not the sort of thing you are going to be able to disprove easily.
Think of it as being liable for your everything on your network. Its kind of like having a pool in your backyard but not having a fence. Should something bad happen, you will be at fault for not putting up a barrier.
There is a flipside to all of this as well. What about connecting to somebody else’s unsecured network? While you’ll probably be okay you should keep in mind that connecting to somebody else’s network is still illegal if you don’t have permission. Additionally, be aware that there have been many cases of “honeypots” being set up to collect personal data. A honeypot is an intentionally unsecured network with a “sniffer” that collects all data travelling over it. This sort of thing snags personal info and passwords from unsuspecting people looking for a convenient internet connection. While there are ways to protect yourself on public wifi, the best policy is to avoid it altogether. A “sniffer” can be run on just about any network, so even a coffee shop’s network could be used to steal data. That is enough doom and gloom for today.
Here is a great guide on securing your wireless network at home.