When I moved into my first college apartment, I subsisted for days on one bar of Wi-Fi from a neighbor’s foolishly unguarded access point. In fact, I used their Internet connection to go online and schedule an appointment to have my own service hooked up. Why use the phone when you can bum Internet? Well, because it’s kinda sorta stealing, for one, and because sensitive information could fall into the wrong hands.
That doesn’t stop a lot of people, though: the Wi-Fi Alliance surveyed about a thousand Internet users in the US and found that 32% had used a Wi-Fi connection that wasn’t theirs in December 2010. In December 2008, that figure was only 18%.
Now here’s where we run into a bit of a disconnect: 40% of the people surveyed--including those who happily use their neighbors’ Wi-Fi--said “they would be more likely to trust someone with a key to their homes than the password to their WiFi access points.”
Over 25% of the survey respondents claimed that sharing a Wi-Fi access point felt more personal than sharing a toothbrush. Bwuh? Wi-Fi Alliance points out there’s a bit of a contradiction, here. Yeah, most of us protect our networks because we don’t want other people leaching our bandwidth or downloading who knows what. But setting aside the potential moral issues, using another person’s network isn’t exactly guaranteed to be safe. When it comes to e-safety, rustling up wild Internet isn’t much smarter than leaving your network wide open.