IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Research Shows Wi-Fi Piggybacking Widespread

Fifty-four percent of computer users admitted using someone else's wireless Internet access without permission.

New research, carried out by Sophos, shows that 54 percent of computer users admit to Wi-Fi piggybacking -- accessing someone else's wireless Internet network without permission.

According to the research, many Internet-enabled homes fail to properly secure their wireless connection properly with passwords and encryption, allowing freeloading passers-by and neighbors to steal Internet access rather than paying an Internet Service Provide (ISP) for their own. In addition, while businesses often have security measures in place to protect the Wi-Fi networks within their offices from attack, experts note that remote users working from home could prove to be a weak link in corporate defenses.

"Stealing Wi-Fi Internet access may feel like a victimless crime, but it deprives ISPs of revenue. Furthermore, if you've hopped onto your next door neighbors' wireless broadband connection to illegally download movies and music from the net, chances are that you are also slowing down their Internet access and impacting on their download limit," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "For this reason, most ISPs put a clause in their contracts ordering users not to share access with neighbors -- but it's very hard for them to enforce this."

It is recommended that home owners and businesses alike set up their networks with security in mind, ensuring that strong encryption is in place to prevent hackers from eavesdropping on communications and potentially stealing usernames, passwords and other confidential information.

"If you're not encrypting your wireless communications then it's not hard for cybercriminals in your neighborhood to snoop on what you're doing, whether it's surfing or remotely accessing work documents. They may even be able to infect your computer with malware designed to commit identity theft," continued Cluley. "It's essential that your Wi-Fi connection is encrypted and that you have not chosen a password for your router which is easy to guess or crack. The problem is that a lot of Wi-Fi equipment is not properly configured when it comes out of the box, or is a headache to setup."


Tips for preventing strangers from stealing your Wi-Fi connection

1. Use encryption

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2) is a stronger encryption system than WEP, and can be used to reduce the chances of hackers intercepting your communications.

2. Use a password

Choose a strong password that has to be used to access your wireless access point. Don't use the default password that came with your Wi-Fi equipment or a dictionary word that is easy to guess or crack. (You may wish to read our article on sensible password use for help with this.

3. Use MAC address filtering

Wi-Fi routers and access points normally have the ability to prevent unknown wireless devices from connecting. This works by comparing the MAC address of the device trying to connect with a list held by the router. Unfortunately, this feature is normally turned off when the router is shipped because it requires some effort to set up properly. By enabling this feature, and only telling the router the MAC address of wireless devices in your household you can reduce the chances of strangers' computers piggybacking your Internet connection.

Unfortunately it is possible for a determined hacker to clone MAC addresses, but this measure should still be taken to reduce the risks.

4. Don't broadcast the name of your wireless network

The name of your wireless network, known as the SSID, should not be broadcast to passers-by. In addition, choose an obscure hard-to-guess SSID name to make life harder for hackers. SSIDs such as "home" or "Internet" are not good choices.

5. Restrict Internet access to certain hours

Some wireless routers allow you to configure Internet access to certain times of the day. For instance, if you know you will not need to access the Internet from home between 9-5, Monday to Friday, then schedule your router to disable access between those hours.

6. Make sure your computers are properly secured

Make sure all of your computers are properly secured with up-to-date anti-virus, security patches, and client firewall software.