Make Sure You Are Encrypting Your WiFi Traffic

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-04-17 Print this article Print


Nothing has changed those conditions with regard to WiFi. If you can receive your neighbor's WiFi signals and they aren't encrypted, you may find that your neighbor is annoyed, but your neighbor's only recourse is to turn on encryption. The whole privacy issue has been around for a while, but that's due mostly to the fact that the unlicensed radio concept means that people don't have to pass tests, and thus learn the law, before they use their radios.

The lack of precedent, as the FCC puts it, is one reason the agency didn't move more aggressively against Google. But the bottom line is, what Google did may offend privacy advocates, but it's not illegal.

In fact, the FCC had to stretch even to fine Google $25,000. The agency has jurisdiction over radio licenses and the people and companies who operate using those licenses. In its Notice of Apparent Liability, the FCC had to note that Google has a few corporate FCC licenses. Had Google not had those licenses, the FCC may well have been powerless to assess the relatively minor fine that it did.

The bottom line here is that you cannot assume that your information is private unless you take steps to secure it. If you use an insecure WiFi access point, whether it's one at your home that you didn't get around to setting up WPA on or whether it's the access point at Starbucks, then you have no reason to expect privacy. The fact that you didn't think about this when you sent your bank account information using your iPad or when you never quite got around to setting up your WiFi router is beside the point.

Should it be this way? Well, probably not. The Communications Act of 1934, even though it's been updated several times, never anticipated a world where essentially everyone would be connected by wireless devices. The Congress at that time was thinking more about radio broadcasters, ships and a few other corporate users, not a cell phone in every pocket and a WiFi router in practically every home and office.

The only real solution is to change the law. Because the Wiretap Act and the Communications Act work in concert, both need to be revised to take the world of wireless communications into account so that it really is illegal to listen to someone's communications. Unfortunately, without a change in the law, there's no privacy. For you this means two things. First, don't waste your energy railing against Google. Instead, work at getting the law changed. And while you're at it, turn on encryption on your WiFi router. 

To follow Wayne Rash on Twitter, click here. 


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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