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How do I find my wifi benefactor?
March 22, 2005 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I am at my parents vacation home in Florida for Spring break. Today I found an open wifi connection which I am using now. Since am here quite often, I would like to ask permission and even pay for access. (Maybe access in exchange for securing this person's router :-)) How do I physically locate the source of a "free" open wifi connection?
posted by Hash to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
 
If you have a way of measuring the signal, you can sort of wander around and see where its stronger/weaker, kinda like hot/cold when you were a kid.

If you wanted to be more scientific about it, you could try triangulating the signal...

Whatever you do (and this should be obvious), don't try sniffing network traffic to get a name/email address. This is usually quite illegal.
posted by onalark at 2:45 PM on March 22, 2005


Without special hardware, your only option is triangulation by walking around and watching your connectivity bars go up and down. The higher the bars, the closer you'll likely be to the access point.

Another option would be to contact the ISP providing this person's Internet (which you can probably determine using traceroute) and ask/browbeat/social engineer them into giving you contact information for the person associated with the access point's IP address.
posted by event at 2:46 PM on March 22, 2005


you could knock on every door in a 150-300 foot radius. Less if you are surrounded by a lot of concrete.
posted by crunchland at 2:46 PM on March 22, 2005


You can buy or build a directional antenna and go home in on it (keep in mind signal will be greatest at the lobes not the center)

Also, kind of obvious, but sometimes the router has the name of the home/business on it. Also, you can see what other services are on that subnet: For example, I use a Rendezvous browser on my Mac and can often see that "Bob Smith's Computer" is locally available.
posted by vacapinta at 2:47 PM on March 22, 2005


Without special hardware, your only option is triangulation by walking around and watching your connectivity bars go up and down. The higher the bars, the closer you'll likely be to the access point.

If you're just going to walk around with your laptop (not a bad idea) download some software to get more detailed signal strength info than just 4-5 discrete bars. I use MacStumbler and Istumbler on the Powerbook.
posted by vacapinta at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2005


No such luck vacapinta. The SSID is "NETGEAR". I suppose I could try to log in to the router using the manufacturers default password but stealing a little bandwidth is as far as I will go.
posted by Hash at 3:07 PM on March 22, 2005


I think what vacapinta means is do a tracert. I'm going to assume Windows, but I'm sure the OSX shell has something similar. Go to Start -> Run -> type in "cmd" and enter....

Microsoft Windows XP [Version 5.1.2600]
(C) Copyright 1985-2001 Microsoft Corp.

C:\Documents and Settings\caligula>tracert aol.com

Tracing route to aol.com [152.163.142.184]
over a maximum of 30 hops:

1 1 ms 1 ms 1 ms 192.168.0.1
2 12 ms 16 ms 11 ms 10.62.64.1
3 11 ms 11 ms 11 ms xxxxx.xxxxxx.kc.rr.com [24.xx.xxx.xx]

You'll probably get 10 hops or so. The third one is the IP of the actual cable modem (maybe DSL in your case). Just keep in mind the first number that's not starting with 192 or 10 is going to be the gateway IP address.

I think your best bet is to find it via "hot/cold signal strength" method, as triangulation is going to need some trignometry. You may try and call the IP for the number that matches the name but I doubt you'll get very far. They're apt to protect their constomers privacy.
posted by geoff. at 3:35 PM on March 22, 2005


Is allowing your neighbor to use your DSL via wireless modem illegal? What if they pay you a bit to defray its cost?
posted by ParisParamus at 3:37 PM on March 22, 2005


You don't even need __stumbler to get more detailed signal information - just click on the Airport menu and open Internet Connect. Then select "Airport" if it isn't already selected.
posted by O9scar at 3:57 PM on March 22, 2005


I think what vacapinta means is do a tracert.

Actually, i did mean just the SSID. I figured the router IP would be useless for privacy reasons but...on the offhand that its a business you're getting your service from, that IP may actually be publicly listed as part of a block they got from their ISP. So you might as well try and WHOIS it.
posted by vacapinta at 3:59 PM on March 22, 2005


This question I asked many moons ago will not answer your specific question, but the metaphor of one reading by the bright spilling in from next door made me feel far less guilty about using open networks.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:12 PM on March 22, 2005


bright light.....
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:38 PM on March 22, 2005


From CL's previous question:

"I'm a community minded guy and maybe that's just me, but I think most people are fine and good and won't abuse it."
posted by mathowie at 7:38 PM PST on June 19

So, what constitutes abuse?
posted by mischief at 5:53 PM on March 22, 2005


Here's what I used (on windows): Net Stumbler to find out who had open wifi connections in my neighbourhood (tricky 'cause i'm in a 3 floor apartment.

Here's a sample graph where you can see how signal/noise ratio can help tell you if you're closer or farther away.

Either way, the signal you're getting is probably much less than 300m away, wich restricts who it could be quite easily.
posted by furtive at 8:32 PM on March 22, 2005


Is allowing your neighbor to use your DSL via wireless modem illegal? What if they pay you a bit to defray its cost?

I doubt it's illegal, but I think it's against the terms of use for most providers, at least the big ones. I could find the terms of service for sbc/yahoo (ominous) but I did find comcast's; here are the relevant provisions:


Prohibited uses include, but are not limited to, using the Service, Customer Equipment, or the Comcast Equipment to:

...

ix. resell the Service or otherwise make available to anyone outside the Premises the ability to use the Service (i.e. wi-fi, or other methods of networking), in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, or on a bundled or unbundled basis. The Service is for personal and non-commercial use only and you agree not to use the Service for operation as an Internet service provider or for any business enterprise or purpose, or as an end-point on a non-Comcast local area network or wide area network;

x. connect multiple computers behind the cable modem to set up a LAN (Local Area Network) that in any manner would result in a violation of the terms of this Policy or an applicable Service plan;

...


I have no idea whether these provisions are something that are legally enforceable (e.g. if the user doesn't know any better, seeing as all wireless routers that I know of come set up as open by default). In practice, I have never ever heard of an ISP enforcing something like this. Even in the days when simple LANs were forbidden by comcast, they were tacitly supported (e.g. there were FAQs about setting them up)
posted by advil at 9:04 PM on March 22, 2005


seeing as all wireless routers that I know of come set up as open by default

That's true as far as I know for OEM routers, but here in San Francisco, SBC secures the wireless routers people purchase and pay to have the company set up for them, by default. I've never been sure if that's because they're sincerely trying to protect customers' privacy, or because they don't want strangers getting one of their WiFi connections for free. Maybe a bit of both?
posted by sixdifferentways at 10:31 PM on March 22, 2005


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