How important is WiFi security in a rural area?
July 7, 2011 7:26 AM   Subscribe

How important is WiFi security in a rural area?

I moved from a very urban area, where I had my WiFi locked down very tightly (e.g., unbroadcasted ISID, WPA2-AES, MAC filtering). I just moved to a pretty rural location, where my closest neighbor is at least a couple hundred yards away, and the next closest neighbor is about 1/4 mile away.

I've had connectivity issues with security in the past, with certain devices forgetting the password, etc.

My question is, wardriving notwithstanding (which seems relatively unlikely), how important is wireless security in a rural setting? Anyone else use an open network in such a setting?

posted by ssmug to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anyone else use an open network in such a setting?

Sure. A lot of this has to do with your personal comfort/risk level obviously. I live in a rural setting but one in which I can see the networks of my neighbors on some days. I also check my network traffic to see which devices are connecting. There is literally no one connecting but me, ever. On the other hand, guests and visitors can connect easily and simply. THAT said, if there was some sort of weird out-of-left-field problem [there are really few cases, but someone downloading illegal porn/warez from the driveway], if my network wasn't secure I could be on the hook for it. It's a murky grey area legally nd not as tested as you'd like it to be. I am fine with playing those odds.

My feeling is that the lack of tech know-how in most rural areas combined with the absence of people leads to a pretty safe place for this, but this is all up to your comfort level. That said, I'd work out the password problems anyhow because it might point to something going weird with your network. Hiding the SSID is about the easiest thing you can do that would likely give you peace of mind and still allow simple unpassworded access.
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 AM on July 7, 2011

I'm rural and keep my network wide open. I have never had an issue.

I've got an antenna and can barely see one other connection with it, so I figure most home routers won't get much of anything from me anyway. But hey, if your neighbors are close enough to get access to your connection, you could always, you know, talk to them, and maybe share one connection saving you both money?

But here's what matters.
Chances are that your one rural neighbor is:

A) Not a hacker.
B) Already has their own internet to use.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:37 AM on July 7, 2011

I live in a rural area and don't believe the security is necessary. Nearest neighbors and nearest road are about a mile out.

That being said folks will park outside the local coffee shop (in town) which has wifi and use their wifi from their vehicles.

If wardriving is going to be an issue, you likely would notice folks parked near your house.

I figure anyone who wants to hike in is welcome to some wifi.
posted by countrymod at 7:37 AM on July 7, 2011

My in-laws ran a completely unsecured wifi network in rural Wisconsin for about 2 years, and don't seem to have had any trouble. This is hardly a definitive answer (they might have had trouble that they just didn't know about; they might just have been-- and probably were-- EXTREMELY lucky), but it's a datapoint.
posted by COBRA! at 7:38 AM on July 7, 2011

I run a wide open wifi network. If the bears and squirrels around here want to log on, they're free to.
posted by ook at 7:50 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

>I'm rural and keep my network wide open. I have never had an issue.

That you know of. That's a very important distinction.

It's *entirely* possible something bad has happened, and you just don't know it. Further, it's just as possible something bad will happen tomorrow, that you may or may not know about. That's what it means when you don't protect yourself.

Frankly, I see this the same way as the news reports from some rural area, where the victim of the crime says "it's such a nice area...we never lock our doors". Well...maybe you should have. "Rural" is not a code word for "no bad guys around here". Just as locking the door on your way out is a low overhead way to protect your house, turning on WPA or WPA2 are low overhead ways to protect your data.

P.S. - SSID and MAC filtering are pretty much more trouble than their worth. YMMV.
posted by kjs3 at 8:04 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mine is wide open. Makes it easy for guests, and I don't think any of the (distant) neighbours have the know-how to mess with things. Also, I'm pretty sure you'd have to be parked in the driveway or sitting on the porch to get a usable signal from it.
posted by raxast at 8:05 AM on July 7, 2011

I debated this own question in my head when setting up the wireless for my parents who are in a very rural setting. Left it wide open, because I don't want to have to worry about them forgetting the WPA2 Key or anything like that. And if someone can sit in the driveway and use the 'net, then mom's already readying the rifle.
posted by deezil at 8:09 AM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

That you know of. That's a very important distinction.

I'm not going to argue here, but I think that this discussion could be important to the original poster.

My computer at home is a firewalled linux box. It's used for writing, music, and file storage. I have multiple backups.
I notably don't do banking there, or anything involving a credit card.

Therefore, in this particular case, a problem that I'm not aware of is much the same as a problem that does not exist.

As for the rural vs urban debate, I'd cite population density. If there's one neighbor that might get the flickering tail end of your connection, there's a much lower chance that he's going to care than if you're in say, an apartment block with a hundred people.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:18 AM on July 7, 2011

I used to know a guy who would climb up grain elevators with a laptop and a cantenna and tune into random people's WiFi just for kicks. Apparently he could reliably get signals from several miles away, and a good portion were un-protected.

Barring sociopaths like him, you're totally fine.
posted by miyabo at 9:25 AM on July 7, 2011

I suggest a router like the Airport Extreme which lets you set up multiple channels. I have an extremely secure password on one for our home computers, so we can do file sharing etc., and I have an open one which is firewalled off from any other computer, even other computers sharing the open one.

I think you would be surprised who is out in the country with a laptop or phone and no manners so I don't suggest letting all computers access one completely open channel.
posted by michaelh at 9:28 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I think you would be surprised who is out in the country with a laptop or phone and no manners so I don't suggest letting all computers access one completely open channel."

This. Really.
posted by batikrose at 9:58 AM on July 7, 2011

It's a matter of opinion ... but wireless security is easily justifiable anywhere merely on the basis of not wanting to risk having your door broken down by law enforcement with their guns drawn because a mischievous passer by decided to jump on your wifi and (post kiddy porn / upload the latest hollywood movie they just cam'ed / threaten to kill your head of state / try to hack into your national intelligence service / etc.).

posted by jannw at 10:53 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

@Stagger Lee: My computer at home is a firewalled linux box.

You may not be aware of this, but that statement is not equivalent to "I'm secure". Nor are the risk cases you imply you're subject to the only ones you should be concerned about.

@raxast: I'm pretty sure you'd have to be parked in the driveway or sitting on the porch to get a usable signal from it.

Unless you live down a well or in a cave, you'd be wrong. Google "long distance wifi" for a myriad of options.

@ook: If the bears and squirrels around here want to log on, they're free to.

What about Pedobear?

In the end, it's a risk assessment. Given a risk that is trivial to exploit, very easy to mitigate and potentially very damaging to you (not even as extreme as "steal all your data", think 6-strikes and no internet ISPs, RIAA lawsuits and traffic caps/overage costs), even with a low probability of attack why wouldn't you just eliminate the issue once and for all? It's an attitude with all the intellectual maturity of people who move to a 500-year flood plane, don't buy flood insurance because "I'll be dead in 500 years" and cry about how unfair insurance is when they get flooded out.

Buckle your seatbelt. Wear a helmet when cycling. Lock your door when you leave. Install a smoke detector and check the battery periodically. Secure your WiFi. Be an adult.
posted by kjs3 at 1:40 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

My nearest neighbors are pretty close, but not likely to abuse my network. Other neighbors are too far for adequate connectivity. Mrs. NextDoor would definitely notice a strange person or car in my driveway, surfing the web. My network is open, but my computers are not.
posted by theora55 at 1:48 PM on July 7, 2011

What about Pedobear?

Yes, in theory, someone could drive half a mile up our steep dirt private road, park within sight of our house (which is the only way to be in range of our wifi signal) and begin downloading child porn, and sooner or later the feds might come knocking on my door. There is indeed a nonzero risk of that.

A vastly more plausible way to get the feds knocking on my door would be for somebody to plant marijuana somewhere on our 40 acres of woods. And yet when I proposed putting up a ten foot razor wire fence around it, just in case, everybody thought I was being paranoid.

In every case I'm aware of where an open wifi network was used for what you're talking about -- and there aren't many cases of this in the first place -- the neighbors doing the child porn downloading were the ones who got arrested, indicating that the level of paranoia you propose is, well, kind of paranoid.

Be an adult.
Part of being an adult is being able to assess risks rationally. The convenience to my friends and houseguests of being able to use my network without hassle far outweighs the minuscule risk of anything bad happening as a result of me leaving my network open.
posted by ook at 2:49 PM on July 7, 2011

We don't lock our doors, and we don't lock our wi-fi. And yes, we live in America, and we have neighbors. Strangers would have to be parked in our driveway to get a signal, and everyone would notice. I know all my neighbors. They have their own wi-fi.
posted by RedEmma at 2:52 PM on July 7, 2011

Mod note: please answer the question don't get fighty and snarky with other commenters. thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:53 PM on July 7, 2011

we're wiiiiide open at home. And there's even a teenager living about 500 metres away!

but we don't lock cars or houses either, I'd be staarting with the physical stuff before I got scared about that.

So if I can summarise the responses of the majority of people who live out in the country, yeah, fully open network, no worries.
posted by wilful at 9:57 PM on July 7, 2011

We're rural-ish and I use a WPA. I made the password a longish sentence that's not difficult to share with guests. My devices have never forgotten the password. The extra security is not a hassle and I like the comfort of knowing that it's there. I trust our closest neighbors but I don't underestimate the power of a directional antenna, either.

(I do broadcast the SSID, there's lots of literature about how not broadcasting it isn't a security measure and causes problems. I don't use MAC filtering, the hassle vs. security ratio isn't good enough for me.)
posted by anaelith at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2011

Mod note: If you're not talking about this thread topic you need to take it to MetaTalk or email.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2011

« Older How to clean garden furniture?   |   Putting on the hotness. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.