Wi-Fi piggybacking widespread, Sophos research reveals

November 15, 2007 Sophos Press Release

Wireless internet users
Over 50% of people polled admitted they had stolen Wi-Fi internet access from others.

IT security and control firm Sophos has revealed new research into the use of other people's Wi-Fi networks to piggyback onto the internet without payment. The research, carried out by Sophos on behalf of The Times, shows that 54 percent 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 Wi-Fi networks within their offices from attack, Sophos 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 neighbours - but it's very hard for them to enforce this."

Survey results

Have you ever used someone else's Wi-Fi connection without their permission?

Yes
54%
No
46%

Sophos online survey, 560 respondents, 31 October - 6 November 2007.

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 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."

Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that this poll is not scientific and is provided for information purposes only. Sophos makes no guarantees about the accuracy of the results other than that they reflect the choices of the users who participated.