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Sophos: Over 50% of people polled admit they have stolen Wi-Fi internet access

November 2007 by

IT security and control firm Sophos has revealed new research into the use of other people’s Wi-Fi networks to piggyback onto the internet without payment. The research shows that 54 percent of computer users have admitted breaking the law, by using someone else’s wireless internet access without permission.

According to Sophos, many internet-enabled homes fail to properly secure their wireless connection properly with passwords and encryption, allowing freeloading passers-by and neighbours to steal internet access rather than paying an internet service provider (ISP) for their own. In addition, while businesses often have security measures in place to protect the Wi-Fi networks within their offices from attack, Sophos experts note that remote users working from home could prove to be a weak link in corporate defences.

"Stealing Wi-Fi internet access may feel like a victimless crime, but it deprives ISPs of revenue. Furthermore, if you’ve hopped onto your next door neighbours’ wireless broadband connection to illegally download movies and music from the net, chances are that you are also slowing down their internet access and impacting on their download limit," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "For this reason, most ISPs put a clause in their contracts ordering users not to share access with neighbours - but it’s very hard for them to enforce this."

Survey results Have you ever used someone else’s Wi-Fi connection without their permission?

Yes 54%
No 46%


Sophos online survey, 560 respondents, 31 October - 6 November 2007.

Sophos recommends that home owners and businesses alike set up their networks with security in mind, ensuring that strong encryption is in place to prevent hackers from eavesdropping on communications and potentially stealing usernames, passwords and other confidential information.

"If you’re not encrypting your wireless communications, then it’s not hard for cybercriminals in your neighbourhood to snoop on what you’re doing, whether it’s surfing the internet or remotely accessing work documents. They may even be able to infect your computer with malware designed to commit identity theft," continued Cluley. "It’s essential that your Wi-Fi connection is encrypted and that you have not chosen a password for your router which is easy to guess or crack. The problem is that a lot of Wi-Fi equipment is not properly configured when it comes out of the box, or is a headache to setup."


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