Electronic Frontier Foundation: "Keep those WiFi networks open!"

By Nathaniel Mott , written on November 2, 2012

From The News Desk

Everybody knows that it's best to keep our WiFi networks locked down with strong, unguessable passwords, preventing neighbors, guests, and other vagabonds from leeching off our precious connectivity. Well, everybody, that is, except the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The EFF, in conjunction with NYC Wireless, Internet Archive, the Open Technology Institute, and others, has launched the Open Wireless Movement to dispel the fear, uncertainty, and doubt surrounding open WiFi networks. The Open Wireless Movement plans to educate the masses on keeping their WiFi networks publicly available while developing technologies that will protect their security and available bandwidth.

This movement is particularly poignant in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when many have been left without Internet connectivity or power, effectively cutting them off from wired society. Wireless carriers, understandably, weren't able to keep all their towers operating after the storm, making WiFi networks even more important for people that would otherwise be left, literally and figuratively, in the dark.

The Open Wireless Movement also cites instances where open WiFi networks are important to rescue operations, including one case in which the Italian government asked citizens to open their WiFi networks after an earthquake.

Unfortunately, most people are reluctant to share their networks for two reasons: security and speed. The fear is that leaving a WiFi network open to anyone nearby can expose the network's owners to (virtual) attacks and legal ramifications if the visitor does something illegal (like pirating movies). The Open Wireless Movement has a lengthy response to this concern which says that, in most cases in the US, the provider isn't liable for what other people do on their open WiFi networks.

When it comes to speed, the thinking seems to be that, the more devices there are on a wireless network, the slower that network will get. That's true to an extent – anyone who has tried to connect to a WiFi network at a crowded event can attest to that – but the Open Wireless Movement says that many systems are using only a small portion of their allotted bandwidth. Unless users are planning on hosting a 100-person event, they're likely to be fine.

As part of its "free the networks!" efforts, the Open Wireless Movement will work to develop technologies to further mitigate speed and security concerns. Essentially, the message is that open wireless networks are already a viable option and that, in time, they will only get better.