IT security and control firm Sophos has revealed new research into the use of other people's WiFi networks to piggyback onto the Internet without payment. The research shows that 54% of computer users have admitted breaking the law, by using someone else's wireless Internet access without permission.
According to Sophos, many Internet-enabled homes fail to properly secure their wireless connection with passwords and encryption, allowing freeloading passers-by and neighbours to steal Internet access rather than paying an Internet service provider (ISP) for their own.
In addition, while businesses often have security measures in place to protect the WiFi networks within their offices from attack, Sophos experts note that remote users working from home could prove to be a weak link in corporate defences.
"While stealing WiFi Internet access may seem like a victimless crime, it deprives ISPs of revenue. Anyone hopping onto their next-door neighbours' wireless broadband connection to illegally download movies and music from the net, are likely slowing down legitimate users’ Internet access and impacting on their download limit,” says Brett Myroff, CEO of master Sophos distributor, NetXactics.
"Although most ISPs put a clause in their contracts to try to prevent users sharing access with neighbours, it's very hard to enforce."
Sophos recommends 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 it becomes very easy for cyber criminals to snoop on what you're doing, whether it's surfing the Internet or remotely accessing work documents. They may even be able to infect your computer with malware designed to commit identity theft.
"It's essential to encrypt your Wi-Fi connection and ensure that the router password is not easily guessed or cracked. A part of the problem is that a lot of WiFi equipment is not properly configured out of the box and can be a headache to setup," Myroff says.