Confessions of a broadband borrower: Misusing an unsecured WiFi network has its risks

Yes, I confess, I’ve been a broadband “borrower” for much of my life, jumping on open, unsecured WiFi networks while waiting in airports or hotels or sometimes even outside a stranger’s apartment building. And, I never thought about the security risks from this activity.

I’ve called it borrowing because of the connection to “The Borrowers”, one of my favorite childhood books. These Borrowers were a family of little people – Pod, Homily, and their teenage daughter  Arrietty– about four inches tall. They “borrowed” for their survival from the big people that lived in the house – food, clothes, even dollhouse furniture.

Of course, the WiFi Access - The BorrowersBorrowers never stole, they just… took what they needed. What could possibly go wrong with this? The same rationalizing was behind my bandwidth surfing. Of course, stealing would constitute something else–like downloading the entire “Lord of the Rings” film series – not just checking emails or updating my Facebook status for a few minutes here and there.

Well, for the Borrowers, their activities usually led to some kind of conflict with the adult “human beans” they lived with. Similarly with broadband “borrowing”, it raises a number of moral and security dilemmas:

1. Stealing bandwidth is a crime that people can be prosecuted for. Think about this before jumping uninvited onto any sort of network you come across.

2. “Open and unsecure network” – As your computer just warned you, your “borrowed” network link is unsecured and your unencrypted messages can be easily read.

3.  Free legitimate Wi-Fi connections at the hotel or airport are not risk free. Thanks to “sniffing” and “sidejacking” techniques, hackers can intercept unencrypted information sent through an open WiFi connection and filter out passwords or financial details. Or, they just might want to look at the pictures you’re sending.

One good way to prevent this is to use the free Hotspot Shield VPN software. This app creates a secure, encrypted communication tunnel between your computer and the Hotspot Shield servers, blocking out those potential eavesdroppers – even if they are sitting right across from you in the cafe. It also hides your IP address to prevent tracking by third parties outside the café.

One of the Borrowers’ biggest concerns was that they had to move if they were seen by their human hosts.  If only they had a Hotspot Shield to keep them hidden.

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