I’ve been a computer technician for over 35 years. When Wi-Fi first came out I thought, “This is what I’ve been waiting for… now I can connect to my laptop from anywhere in the house.” I was right! Unfortunately, so could lots of other people! //192.168.1.1
Actually, I was probably the first one to connect to my wireless router from one of my neighbors. I’d taken my laptop over to his house to help him design an Excel spreadsheet and while I was working, I noticed that my laptop was ‘on-line.’ Even though I was four houses away and across the street, probably 200 feet at least, the signal was rock-solid and I could surf the Net at will.
Since my laptop and desktop computers share a home network, I was also able to connect to my desktop’s printer. As we worked, I sent the spreadsheet designs to the printer at home just like I was setting at my desk working on them.
We worked for a few hours and then took a coffee break. I was curious to see if there were any other wireless networks in range and sure enough, there were two. One was encrypted, but the other was wide open. Just for laughs, I decided to see if I could log onto it. I clicked on the SSID and in a few seconds, I was online and using someone else’s Internet connection. Whose was it? Who knows? But they were nearby because Wi-Fi signals have a maximum range of about 300 feet.
That was almost 10 years ago. Today, with the help of inexpensive (under $10 in some cases) antennas, you can pick up these signals up to a mile away. This has made it easy for people to go together and share Internet connections. The ISP is the loser in this scenario. It’s kind of like people sharing a cable television connection. Every once in a while the cable company will run an add saying, “Stealing cable TV is illegal.” It’s not all that hard to detect cable theft. There’s a voltage drop when cable lines are split and shared.
But with Wi-Fi, sharing is nearly impossible to detect. And with today’s 5 and 10 megabyte Internet speeds, several people can share a Wi-Fi connection with little degradation, saving a lot of money in the process. Of course, sharing an Internet connection between neighbors is as illegal as sharing a cable television connection.
Known wireless sharing is only part of a service provider’s problem. A much bigger problem is people logging onto someone’s router without them knowing it. This happens all the time. I’ve seen it dozens of times as a tech when working on someone’s computer. And because the person who’s paying for the connection doesn’t usually notice any thing different, it can go undetected for years.
The way to protect yourself is simple. Turn on your router’s encryption. It’s easy and you can do it in a minute or two. You’re inviting problems when you leave your router open to anyone who can log onto it. That’s because you never know what they are downloading. Plus, with a simple homebuilt antenna such as the Wi-Fi CANnon, your router’s range isn’t just 300 feet anymore. Your uninvited neighbor might be up to a mile or more away! The bottom line is…don’t risk it, turn on your router’s encryption!
For the record, there are ‘FREE’ Internet connections that people can log onto legally. Forget your neighbor; there are universities, public libraries, public parks and recreation facilities, government sponsored hotspots, restaurant hotspots, RV hotspots, and a wealth of other FREE access points scattered across almost every city in the US. This is how to get FREE Internet the legal way. You just need a high-gain, directional antenna to find them.