Wi-Fi ‘piggybacking’ has been around since the dawn of wireless computing, with people obtaining free Web access by using networks which have been left unsecure because the owner has not set a password.
Over half of the 500 respondents around the UK admit to the practice.
What’s more 29 per cent believe there’s nothing wrong with it – despite the fact that dishonestly using an electronics communications service with the intent to avoid paying is an offence under the Communications Act 2003.
“The perception is that borrowing a bit of bandwidth is cheeky but not really criminal behaviour,” says Phil Bird, managing director of The PC Support Group, who carried out the survey, “There’s also a view that if someone does not take the trouble to password-protect their wireless network they have to accept the consequences.
“Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, if you don’t make your system secure, you are at the very least likely to end up paying for someone else to have the privilege of accessing the Web. It will also slow your use of the internet.
“You are also leaving yourself open to risk. In most cases of bandwidth theft is simply about people wanting to avoid paying for services. But occasionally, piggybacking is used as a means of hiding illegal downloading activity or engaging in identity theft.”
The PC Support Group, which provides IT services to business and home users, did discover an increased awareness of risk. Five years ago Wi-Fi security surveys commonly showed that about 25 per cent of home and work Wi-Fi networks were left unprotected. The company found that now only 5 per cent of business and 6 per cent of home users now fail to password-protect their Wi-Fi.
The survey also suggests different priorities and sensitivities about confidentially. Nearly 90 per cent say they would trust a friend with their house key than they would with their Wi-Fi password.
A lack of Wi-Fi security training for business users was also identified an issue. Some 84 per cent of business users access Wi-Fi networks outside the office, yet few are given any specific guidance as to protecting sensitive information when using a public Wi-Fi network.
“Many business users don’t think twice about logging onto free Wi-Fi in café’s or using their hotel’s wireless network when travelling, but the truth is, although convenient, open wireless networks also carry some risk,” says Phil Bird. “More people are working remotely and using wireless technology than ever before. The education of risk tends to lack behind the technology.”