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Risks of Hosting an Open Wi-Fi Network

Tony McKay By Tony McKay on 5/5/17 4:35 PM

With the ever-increasing frequency of cyberattacks and identity theft, internet subscribers need to be aware of the risks associated with hosting an open/unsecured Wi-Fi network.  It’s dangerous to leave the keys to the kingdom on your doorstep, or even worse, not lock the castle at all. Here are a few reasons why it’s important to password protect your Wi-Fi.

Security Risks

  • When you allow a stranger onto your open Wi-Fi network, it exposes all connected devices for exploitation of vulnerabilities associated with those devices. While connected to your network, someone could access your confidential files and pictures or could copy inappropriate or malicious files to your PC. These malicious files could allow someone continued access to your personal data, even after they leave your network. 
  • You’d never hang a sign on your front door that says, “No one’s in the house right now.” In the same manner, you don’t want a stranger to determine your network traffic habits by monitoring your number of connected devices and activity. It’s not that difficult for someone to count the number of smartphones that are connected via Wi-Fi and watch that number drop to nothing.
  • All unencrypted web browsing activity on an open Wi-Fi network is free game for any stranger to use however they may wish. Would you want your browser history exposed to the world to see?  This is possible if you are browsing unencrypted sites on an open Wi-Fi network.
  • There are numerous methods hackers use to create fraudulent websites to capture your bank account information. It is much easier to steer your browser toward these fraudulent websites if a stranger already has access to your network.

Legal Risks

All activity behind your home network will exit your residence associated with your IP address.  Your IP address is as unique to you as your street address.  When you allow strangers to use your open Wi-Fi network, it is akin to leaving your car keys in your car and allowing anyone who desires to borrow it.  You suddenly become responsible for the actions of these strangers who may have illegal intentions.  Consider some of the items below.

  • In 2009, an internet subscriber was arrested in New York on suspicion of downloading illicit, illegal material. Three days later, authorities determined the content was downloaded from a neighbor with access to his Wi-Fi.  Showing that you have attempted to secure your Wi-Fi would help your case in the event someone uses your network for malicious reasons.  Also, a wrongful arrest for a heinous crime will still upset your life in a possibly unrepairable way.
  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects artists when their work is downloaded or shared without their permission. This applies to the majority of the file-sharing traffic on the internet today.  It is possible that someone using an open Wi-Fi network could cause the internet subscriber a financial penalty by downloading copyrighted content. 
With all of these risks, some of which can be life-altering, it would benefit all of us to make sure we know very well those individuals that we grant access to our Wi-Fi network.  We are responsible for all activity that happens on our network, and as such, we should protect ourselves from exploitation from strangers.  Many of these risks are the very means to perpetuate flagrant activity:  cyber-attacks, illegal file downloads, and sharing illegal material to mention a few.

Topics: Internet Security

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