The rise in home wireless networks has apparently spawned a new variety of Peeping Toms. In an October study on home-networking trends by wireless-gateway provider 2Wire, 44 percent of home Wi-Fi users admit they would peek at their neighbors wireless networks if given the opportunity. Some 21 percent can see their neighbors wireless networks, and 4 percent have "accidentally" logged on to a neighbors network, where some peeked at files and surfed the Internet.
2Wires numbers might even be conservative, according to InStat/MDR senior analyst Gemma Paulo. "Many people I know, including colleagues, get on another persons network," she says, "especially in neighborhoods with houses close together."
2Wires poll could spell trouble for service providers, who lose out when neighbors of broadband users access the Internet without paying. But Paulo calls file spying in particular "very dangerous, especially if the neighbor is a home remote worker with business reports and private documents on his network."
As Wi-Fi becomes more popular, Paulo suggests that peeking will increase, because users dont know about proper security measures. "Companies ship out default addresses, and many people dont change them," she says. "A neighbor can take over a persons access point and screw with it."
When installing Wi-Fi software, you may not realize that you need to select the check box that automatically encrypts traffic. (2Wire commissioned the study to push its own gateway, which has an encryption key to activate during setup.) Even people who are aware, however, sometimes refuse to encrypt, because it slows down their networks slightly. Setting up user names, passwords, and firewalls can protect your wireless network.
To update Robert Frost, one might suggest, "Good firewalls make good neighbors."