Wireless APs

Over the last few months, it’s been disconcerting to see the reported cases of people getting fined (or worse) for using open wireless access points without permission.

I travel frequently and the use of open APs is an important (if not always reliable) way that I get online. Every time my Internet connection at home goes down, I take advantage of one my neighbors APs. To balance things out, I make sure I always run an open AP for others out my home.

There are many smart reasons not to run an open AP but, for me, doing so is about being a good neighbor. I’ve found that even for the most cautious and conservative, most of the serious risks of running an AP can be mitigated by a measured combination of firewalling and monitoring.

The most ridiculous part of this crackdown is not how common and completely normal intentional "transgressive" wireless sharing is but how how often people do it completely unintentionally and without ever knowing.

Once I was in New York City with Micah and Biella and, knowing that we were technically proficient, a member of Biella’s extended family invited us over to help fix his printer which he was unable to print to over his wireless network. What eventually became clear was that his wireless AP was set of incorrectly and had never worked. His laptop couldn’t find the printer because the printer was on his home network and he had, without his knowledge, been using his neighbor’s wireless since he moved in. He had been paying for DSL which he had never actually used.

In densely populated places — New York in particular but any Western city probably falls into this category — this is incredibly common. Punishing people for doing what so many people do completely unintentionally — and almost entirely without negative consequences I might add — would be silly if what was at stake was not so serious.