Security expert Bruce Schneier wrote a column yesterday titled Steal This Wi-Fi explaining why he runs an open wireless network at home:
To me, it's basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea. But to some observers, it's both wrong and dangerous.
I'm told that uninvited strangers may sit in their cars in front of my house, and use my network to send spam, eavesdrop on my passwords, and upload and download everything from pirated movies to child pornography. As a result, I risk all sorts of bad things happening to me, from seeing my IP address blacklisted to having the police crash through my door.
Schneier concedes that, technically, these sort of calamities are possible, but he discounts the likelihood. I, too, run an open wireless network, but my reasons for sharing the bandwidth are a little different.
I have a Wi-Fi network in my Manhattan apartment. I pay $45 a month for a broadband cable connection, and this network is encrypted. I live in a 19-story apartment building and the chance that too many people would usurp my bandwidth (and thereby diminish my user experience) is too great.
I have another wireless network at a weekend home in Woodstock, NY. I pay the same cable company $45 each month for broadband service. Since I can't be in both places at the same time, why should I have to pay for wireless access two times? I explained this to the cable company, and asked to get a discount for multiple accounts (I pay for cable TV in both locations, too). The answer? Absolutely not. So I figured I’d share the bandwidth.
In Manhattan, I’ve shared the password to my wireless network a neighbor down the hall who has two kids but doesn’t have cable TV. (There’s something about this that I think warrants a reward.) In Woodstock, I have an open network that I share with my neighbors some 200 feet away. I have been doing this for more than a year in both locations, without a glitch.
I know this setup wouldn’t work for everyone, particularly if others using your network are heavy consumers of bandwidth. No offense to my neighbors, but I don’t think any of them could identify BitTorrent if it bit them. They’re just browsing the Web and checking e-mail.
I have never publicly admitted that I share my bandwidth, though, because I knew those who doggedly protect their networks would heap criticism on me for being irresponsible (or stupid). But I’m just not the paranoid type; never have been. So until my cable company finds a way to fairly charge users with multiple accounts (or sends me a cease-and-desist letter), I’ll continue to share my bandwidth. I figure it’s their problem to solve, not mine.
What do you think? Is sharing your network risky or a reward to others?