Why I run an open Wi-Fi network

Why I run an open Wi-Fi network

Summary: 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.


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?

Topics: Wi-Fi, Hardware, Networking

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I share the bandwidth, too

    I have gone on trips where I've used someone's home wifi for a quick e-mail or
    checking something (like the location of a business or whatever), when I haven't
    been able to find a business giving an open WiFi Hotspot. They are not around in a
    lot of small towns, when one goes on trips. So, just cruising down the highway and
    wardriving (sorta) gives you all sorts of access points.

    I also have a couple of HotSpot accounts, but even so, it's very uneven coverage. It's
    mostly in major metropolitan areas. You get outside of about 25 major metro areas
    and then your choices narrow down, and then to nothing, outside of the top 100
    cities. But, there are always neighborhood wifi hotspots around. There's no problem

    So, I leave mine on all the time and it broadcast "open" to anyone who wants to tap
    in. I'm not too far from a major interstate and one block from a major city street, so
    I'm not isolated so that people can't find it. But, even so, I really don't have a lot of
    people taking advantage of it. I just "give it back" to the wifi community "at large"
    for the times that I've used it out on trips.
    • Shoplift - Leave the Restaurant without Paying

      While you're at it, encourage your friends to shoplift in stores that
      charge too much. Just get up and leave the check in expensive restaurants.

      Cheat on cable TV. You can only watch one channel at a time.

      That ull teach 'em (to raise the price for everybody).
      • Feeding the trolls, feeding the trolls

        We will go a posting, feeding the trolls.....

        But seriously, this isn't the same at all. It's like you went to a restaurant and ordered your food, and there was plenty left over, and you shared it with the folks at the table next to you.
        • Almost, not quite

          This would be more like ordering the buffet and sharing it with others.
          • Disagree

            It's like only being able to order 3 large plates, and as the message you replied to says, sharing the leftovers.
      • Shoplift

        What a stupid comment, there is absolutely no comparison between sharing bandwidth and leaving a restaurant without paying. The bandwidth IS paid for so it is more like shopping for food and inviting your neighbours over for a bbq ( if you have to campair it to food that is) you CANT steal what you have already paid for and if you want to share that's a personal choice
        • Almost the same but Totally Different

          Ok. Mr. "What a stupid comment" it may be like a BBQ that was paid for with food stamps. Someone is going to pay for it. The more bandwidth you use the more your local carrier has to pay the regional and national carriers.

          I wonder if 'kindness' can be a bad thing!?!? At what point in our history did we decide that it was ok or 'kind' to take from one group of people and give to another?
          • Jbond

            I'm SURE no one would EVER accuse you of being 'KIND'. What a legalistic jerk.
          • RE: Jbond

            Zena, I am fairly sure that "JBond" is one of those [b]zero tolerance[/b] idiots that I have encountered. I also think that 'zero' may describe some of his other qualities.
          • ThX ye

            LOL! He prolly works for one of the rip-off companies like at&t. Wasn't it them who paid off the politicians to vote down the bill for free bandwith and also to squash legislation to prevent them from ONCE AGAIN becoming a giant monopoly once again? It's ok for the companies to rip off their 'consumers', but GOD forbid that a customers would want a equal value for their money!! We need some people to go to work for these people and 'out' them for their fraudelent practices. We used to have Journalists who did that....and for people like that, I know an old saying that fits it well, Those that have no mercy shall receive no mercy. Have a great week.
          • Mega-capitalist wannabe jerk

          • On kindness, and giving

            [i]I wonder if 'kindness' can be a bad thing!?!? At what point in our history did we decide that it was ok or 'kind' to take from one group of people and give to another?[/i]
            Somewhere around the Presidency of Roosevelt, with his "New Deal". What a disaster....
            I believe it was de Tocqueville who said "A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it."
            Over 50% of your tax dollars are 'transfer' payments. You earn it, and it is given to someone who did not.
            The real problem is not illegal immigration, the real problem is that we have adopted a semi-socialist/semi-capitalist government/economy, and no one even knows it.
          • semi-socialist/semi-capitalist government/economy

            And it's a pity it isn't a a lot more Socialist.
            tracy anne
          • Food stamps? Get serious!

            Food stamps? Really! Food stamps. An item sucked from the government teet somehow, in your twisted logic, equates to monies earned by sweat of brow? Yes, someone is going to pay for it, the person who paid the provider for the broadband service. The broadband service provider sold him X number of bits per second of bandwidth. It belongs to him. It doesn't belong to anyone else. He may do with it what he pleases. It's his property. If he wanted to connect to a usenet server, 24/7, using every bit of his available bandwidth in an attempt to suck the server dry, what would you then have to complain about? He paid for it. It's his to use. If he had a household with eight children, each with their own computers, and the household used every bit available to them, what would you then have to complain about? This is no different.

            And, he's not Robin Hood. He's not taking from someone and giving to others. He's sharing what is already rightfully his. If family comes to visit and parks their RV in the yard, he can run a hose and power line out to the RV, sharing the water and electricity he's paying for with them. It's his. He can do with it what he wants. If he chooses to put a cold water drinking fountain by the road, at the edge of his property, allowing the public to stop for a sip of cold water as they walk by, that's his right. It's his, he paid for it, he can do with it what he pleases. This is absolutely no different.

            Now, climb down off your horse before you fall and hurt yourself.
            Dr. John
          • I almost agree with you except...

            Water and electricity service is not a good comparison to internet service. With water and electricty, you pay to get the service connected and then in most places, you pay for whay you use. With an ISP, you pay to get it connected and then pay a monthly fee for that service.
            Unless there is a drought or heat wave, your utility provider will not limit your usage, the more you use, the more money they make. Unlike an ISP where you are paying for access to the internet, they don't make any more money whether your connection is being used all day long or if it is only used for 1 hour a day to check e-mail.
          • Doesn't that...

            ...just further prove the last person's point?
          • Now, climb down off your horse ...

            <i>"Now, climb down off your horse before you fall and hurt yourself."</i>
            He wouldn't hurt himself if he landed on his head ...
          • I guess I'm paying for it,

            Doing an internet speed test I have only ever maxed out at 4Mbps however I am paying for 5. So I guess I'm paying for it and I'm ok with them sharing my loss of bandwidth.
          • "At what point," you ask?

            [i]At what point in our history did we decide that it was ok or 'kind' to take from one group of people and give to another?[/i]

            I think it was about the time that some guy calling himself "Jesus" came along. What a heartless bastard that guy was!

            You and your ilk, jbond, are a disgrace to all mankind.
        • You can't steal what you already own

          You pay for bandwidth it's yours. You can do whatever you want with it, except perhaps download illegal material.