Why do I have internet?
September 8, 2005 6:07 PM   Subscribe

I don't have wireless internet in my home, but here I sit in my kitchen reading mefi while my laptop is picking up a signal from... somewhere.

I just got my first laptop today and it is configured to use either wireless or wired internet. I do have internet in my home, and a router, but not wireless. I live in a housing complex where my neighbours are only a couple of cinderblocks away, but the network I am currently connected to is called "default" and required no sign-in or security info of any type. Am I stealing someone's connection?
posted by arcticwoman to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
 
Yes.
posted by briank at 6:08 PM on September 8, 2005


Well, sure you are. What else could possibly be happening? Someone, somewhere not far away from you, has a wireless access point set up, and quite stupidly failed to enable any sort of security, or even to change the SSID.
posted by cerebus19 at 6:13 PM on September 8, 2005


So... I should stop... ok, ok.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:19 PM on September 8, 2005


Yup, decent ethics requires you to quit using that except for the briefest of times. Unless you can find your neighbor and ask them if it's OK.
posted by teece at 6:19 PM on September 8, 2005


You're going to find a lot of wireless access points when you take your laptop out of the house. They're everywhere. A couple years ago many more of them were open, like the one you're using, but it's becoming harder and harder to find them, as people get more concerned about security and, it seems to me at least, stingier with their bandwidth.
posted by Hildago at 6:21 PM on September 8, 2005


You might be able to identify them, hit network neighbourhood and see what you can find.

I had a similar experience at my mother's house, showing her a new laptop at her kitchen table, suddenly we had internet - browsing the network neighbourhood for shares showed us a bucket of porn, huge amounts of school work, and family photos of the kid next door. Everything was writeable, we could have deleted all his notes, etc. Instead we dropped a text file on his desktop saying "naughty naughty, does your mum know about your pr0n habit?"

It is unethical to use their internet connection, if they wanted to have an open AP for everyone to use I really doubt they'd call it Default, it'd have some other name. It isn't polite to profit off someone else's honest mistake.

Speaking only for myself, I'd probably use it anyway. But I wouldn't be downloading any torrents or anything. Get an AP of your own, we love ours.
posted by The Monkey at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2005


Long thread about it here.
posted by fionab at 6:38 PM on September 8, 2005


Getting an AP of my own would require, what... a wireless router? I'm sorry, I really am clueless here.

Oh, and I just did the decent thing and disconnected from the neighbour's wireless and hooked up to my own router.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:38 PM on September 8, 2005


You probably want one of these. It accepts an Ethernet cable coming from your cablemodem or DSL, and broadcasts it to your computer.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:44 PM on September 8, 2005


YUP! What rolypolyman said. And make sureyou change the SSID - access key\code.
posted by johnj at 6:48 PM on September 8, 2005


Thanks for that thread, fionab. Enlightening and... complicating.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:51 PM on September 8, 2005


I disagree with Teece. I suggest you read more (such as the thread pointed out by fionab) before you decide that you've been stealing and disconnect. My personal take is that it's fine to use open wireless networks, as long as you're not doing huge bandwidth-sucking downloads. And correspondingly, I leave my wireless network open for others to use.
posted by alms at 6:53 PM on September 8, 2005


Thanks, alms. To be fair, it was just laziness that kept me from hooking up the cable into my own internet. After reading that thread, though, I think I understand a bit more the ethical complications about using open networks. If I needed to use one, I think I would, but briefly.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:04 PM on September 8, 2005


Some of us leave ours open on purpose. I don't care if my neighbor uses it as long as it doesn't impact me financially or otherwise. In fact I appreciate the plausible deniability it offers me, should the RIAA or others try to file a case.
posted by cali at 7:25 PM on September 8, 2005


alms, you may think it's OK, but it's looking like lately you can be arrested for doing it. You are stealing bandwidth. It's similar to taking apples off of someone's apple tree who can't possibly eat all of them. Still not OK.

I personally agree with you, alms. But I also would hate to have someone come knocking at my door because a leech was downloading child porn or bomb schematics off my connection. Since you can't tell what your neighbor will do, it's best to secure your connection. In this case, I'm sure articwoman has only good intentions and wouldn't do anything bad. But it isn't for her to make that call (and she now isn't).

I actually think that there should be more open and free municipal networks that anyone anywhere could access, but that's for another discussion entirely.

articwoman, there is usually an easy way on most (if not all) wireless routers to make a closed network. That will keep your network from being broadcast about the area. You will need to know the exact name of your network to connect. Still need to use encryption to be safe.
posted by qwip at 7:29 PM on September 8, 2005


quip, that's only something I'll need to worry about when I get my own wireless, correct?
posted by arcticwoman at 7:36 PM on September 8, 2005


Mine is open on purpose. Go ahead and use it.
posted by LarryC at 7:46 PM on September 8, 2005


More to the point, if you use an open network, the data isn't encrypted, so anyone nearby with a wireless card and a little knowhow can see what you're doing. (As well as, of course, the owner of the access point.) With your own, you can turn on encryption.
posted by trevyn at 7:57 PM on September 8, 2005


If you do decide to get your own access point, and want to restrict it to your own computers, I'd like to recommend using MAC address filtering. This requires no extra software on the laptop, and you can add all the laptops you expect to use to the permitted list at once, or as you go.
posted by odinsdream at 8:22 PM on September 8, 2005


Conversely, if you decide you do want to share your connection, make your SSID reflect the fact -- like "OK to share" or something similar. I wouldn't leech off of someone's connection with a name like "default" or "linksys", because that would tell me that it's someone who isn't aware of the reach of their signal or how to secure their router.
posted by Vidiot at 8:56 PM on September 8, 2005


Another vote for the open road -- my wifi net is free to all. I just wish it wasn't such a short range.

One point that might be mentioned is that some ISP contracts specifically forbid sharing the connection.
posted by anadem at 9:38 PM on September 8, 2005


arrested? one story about one guy SITTING outside of someone's house doesnt mean people are getting arrested left and right for this...

YOU ARE ALL MINIATURE MEDIAS
posted by Satapher at 9:42 PM on September 8, 2005


trevyn, what tools are used for auditing a home system to see if someone is using your connection?

I live in a duplex and have a wireless router as does my neighbor. 95% of the time my laptop connects to my router, but sometimes it connects to the neighbor. How would I know if the neighbor is ever connecting to mine?
posted by achmorrison at 10:00 PM on September 8, 2005


trevyn, what tools are used for auditing a home system to see if someone is using your connection?

Simplest level: mark one eyeball. Is the wireless activity light blinking when you're not using your laptop?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:53 PM on September 8, 2005


quip, that's only something I'll need to worry about when I get my own wireless, correct?

Yes, that's correct. But even if you don't get wifi, I would recommend you getting a router anyway, as it will help keep your computer secure from those on the other end of the internet. If your set-up came with one, you should already be covered. If you just have a dsl modem you should make sure you are running the firewall software on your computer(s).
posted by qwip at 11:50 PM on September 8, 2005


I don't care if my neighbor uses it as long as it doesn't impact me financially or otherwise. In fact I appreciate the plausible deniability it offers me, should the RIAA or others try to file a case.

Well, now, talking about being aware of it would kind of shoot that plan in the foot, wouldn't it?

How would I know if the neighbor is ever connecting to mine?

Your router admin application should be able to provide a list of who's currently connected to your router. You can also, by the way, use this list to provide a list of valid MAC (not Mac/PC, but the unique id of your computer) addresses that the router will accept connections from.

As for letting your neighbor know that he/she has an open network- if it's called "Default", odds are that it's not open on purpose. Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to track down the owner of an access point. If you were feeling a bit mischievous, you could go to http://192.168.0.1 (the default internal IP of a router), and try admin/admin, admin/password, admin/(blank) password combos. If you get in, change the name of the router to "PLEASE PUT A PASSWORD ON ME".
posted by mkultra at 8:46 AM on September 9, 2005


You are well within your rights to use any WiFi connection that is available in your home or public space. If you are broadcasting your bandwidth into my house then you have forfeited your claim to "ownership" of that bandwidth.

What is in my property is mine, and that includes any bandwidth you broadcast, inadvertantly or not. If you don't want your bandwidth broadcast into my space, then protect it.

This is akin to sattelite television broadcast. TV broadcasts are protected by scrambling, and if the channel is not scrambled you are allowed to watch it without paying. Only when you descramble the broadcast without permission is it considered theft.
posted by soiled cowboy at 6:51 PM on September 9, 2005


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