Let Me Piggyback on Your Wi-Fi & I’ll Pay It Forward by Sharing Mine


When I’m out, I’m often reduced to chasing Wi-Fi where I can find it. Intercity buses that pick up passengers near Penn Station, for example, are oases of connectivity in a city of slaphappy password protection. With Wi-Fi spilling out to the sidewalk, you’ll sometimes see me sprinting along 34th Street with my iPod Touch trying to stay in range of a bus as it heads to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Let me tell you: It isn’t easy to run, read, and poke the screen at the same time all while overcoming the obstacle course created by the legions of kids lined up to audition for America’s Got Talent. Ever since I traded my iPhone and its 2-year AT&T contract for the phone-less but subscription-free iPod Touch, I’ve relied on the generosity of strangers so I can check email. But serendipity is increasingly hard to come by as masters of their hot spots raise the drawbridge of unprotected access by building in a password. I find this trend selfish and short-sighted.

The thing about cities is that because everyone lives and works on top of one another and Wi-Fi doesn’t respect walls or doors, there’s a good chance that a neighboring apartment or business is spewing online availability like a gushing fire hydrant. What a waste!

I don’t consider myself a freeloader when mounting someone else’s Wi-Fi signal for a few minutes a day. At home my broadband connection is wide open and available for neighbors to use. It’s my way of paying it forward since I pay my cable company many hundreds of dollars a year for Internet access, and I hardly use it except during evenings and weekends. Similarly, most people I know are actively online only a portion of the day, and even then they’re using just a fraction of the bandwidth available to them.

Getting online when you’re not in front of a computer at home or the office would be so much easier if people shared their networks. Everyone would benefit except, perhaps, telecommunications giants who want everyone to be paying all the time for access even when they’re not using it. You know their names. They’re the ones who portray sharing as unethical and piggybacking as stealing.

Password protection could be made conditional based on whether the rightful Wi-Fi resident is actually surfing the Internet at the moment. So, if I’m streaming a movie, I wouldn’t want to see the action freeze on account of a dude in the street trying to check his email. Sure, bandwidth is finite. But I also know that it isn’t so precious that it must be hoarded. When I don't need it, I'm hapy to say mi Internet es su Internet.

Let us know your thoughts........

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You may not be selfish (which is admirable) but you are being a bit short-sighted.  It is true that not everybody's use is nefarious, but it is ultimately YOU that can wind up in trouble if somebody uses your Wi-Fi for something questionable or even illegal.

If I leave my wi-fi wide open, and a neighbor (or somebody that comes by and parks in front of my house) decides they are going to use my connection to download pirated movies... who do you think the MPAA is going to file suit against?

As far as I know, I am a good law abiding citizen, but I would still hate to have the police/FBI/etc come and confiscate my computer for who knows how long,because my IP address was used to download kidddie ****, all because I am being a good buy and leaving my connection open to the world.

If you think it is silly, try Google and look up scenarios like that... you will find them, and if you think I am going to risk that to allow you to piggy back off my service because you don't want to pay for mobile internet... you are sadly mistaken. 

The problem with leaving your wifi wide open is that you have no security between the public and your computers.

What I do (and what I think others shoulddo if they wish to have open wifi for anyone to use) is use a pfsense box as my router, from that router i split off a DMZ segment that has no access to the main LAN but has full browsing access. I think connect my wireless access point to that DMZ segment and leave it wide open.

If I need to access my main LAN from my laptop I use the built in VPN server in pfsense to connect to the LAN through the wifi. I can also do bandwidth shaping, limiting and port restrictions as I please.

Sorry - I'm not leaving my bandwidth open for someone else to get in and potentially cause a security problem for me.  That would be like leaving the local bank vault unlocked and unguarded.  Not smart.

While the majority of my formal education has been in computer science and tech related fields, the bad guys out there are studying computer science too.  Spamming and downloading questionable content can be done from any open access point.  The bad guys can also put network traffic monitors on those connections and snag anything that is sent over the network; just think of how many passwords you have to submit for sensitive logins, such as for credit cards and bank accounts.

I'd rather not make it that simple for baddies to get my hard-earned money.

It sounds nice in principle.  When I visit NYC, I'd love to be able to piggyback off WiFi signals . . . but truth is, one of the main ways identity theft is accomplished (and it is greatly on the rise) is through poor internet security on your computers.  It's just not worth the risk. 

However, in the NYC area, I've found that my Blackberry has perfectly good internet access virtually everywhere with my regular phone plan.  Service is spotty in ATL (where I'm from), as my carrier's service seems to run parallel to highways, but NYC is laid out differently, and the entire Manhattan map is a nice green coverage area.   

This is only safe if you set up the Wireless Access Point in such a way that it can't connect to your internal network. This requires two access points and two routers to isolate your shared access point from your private access. So it can be done safely but it costs money to do so.

The bigger problem is that with ISPs (and the government) cracking down on abuse these days you are liable for what happens on your connection even if you don't know who was connected.  If someone connects to terrorist websites, downloads/uploads kiddie **** or sends 1,000,000 spam emails YOU are liable not the freeloader.

Sad to say that this is not a good time to be sharing WiFi.

I think that this article is true save for the risks it opens my network and computer to. It is admirable that you would like to share, but perhaps a bit naive to think that everyone else would respond in kind and in a positive way.

Like some have already stated, I'll say it, too, but in a different way:

Opening up your wifi for any anonymous user is careless.  Obviously, you have exposed your home network, and by extension, any shared documents and sensitive personal information, to anonymous outsiders.  Unless you have provided some way to protect your home network from the general wifi hotspot you’re providing, you can’t guarantee that these individuals won’t ***** your information.  Not everyone is so altruistic as you.

Yes, you can separate your home network from a general wifi hotspot, but there is another reason that providing this freely to anonymous users remains careless.  You have essentially set yourself up to act as a localized Internet Service Provider, without the same safeguards.  Think about it.  When you sign up for internet service, you provide your name, home phone number, address, and any other information (such as bank or credit accounts) to the Service Provider, via which they can contact you – you leave a “paper trail.”  In return, they provide you with an individualized IP address or other access point, which they control and through which your activity can be tracked. This also means that, should you conduct illegal activities online, the Service Provider can terminate your connection without affecting the connectivity of others, and they will not be held legally liable for your activities.

Similarly, businesses that provide free (or paid) wireless connections for their customers are not held liable for illegal activities, but this is due to the establishment of TOS, which you automatically agree to when you use their wifi.  That is something not easily instituted when you open your network to allow anonymous users on your private, non-business connection.  Of course, you could simply provide a password to your neighbors, but that would defeat the purpose of your suggestion that wifi's be left completely "open" to any user.  And, you'd have to keep in mind that since you are providing the connection from your private home, it will be assumed by authorities that you are in full control of the content being accessed and are aware of who is connecting to your network.

As for whether or not you would actually be facing criminal charges for illegal activities perpetrated on you network is another thing.  I imagine, once the evidence was reviewed, and if you could clearly prove that you did not own the computer from which the illegal activity was performed, you would probably be released.  But, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t experience the full, unhappy ramifications of a legal investigation.

There is also another more opinionated reason I personally disagree with sharing my network.  I work hard for the things I have.  Yes, I believe in being charitable to those who lack the necessities and the ability to obtain them.  But, while I see the value in sharing equally among ourselves, there always exists a freeloader who lives as such simply because they don’t want to do the work, and I do not agree with encouraging such sloppy and sad behavior.  It’s bad enough a trend of entitlement-without-effort so heavily plagues our society already.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned FON--the Spanish company that makes a router to help people share securely. I didn't pick up one of the routers  when they were freebies, and now I sorta wish I did.