Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

Is network 'piggybacking' just a free ride, or is it morally wrong?
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The Independent Online

WIRELESS WORRIES

Is it morally wrong to use my neighbour's wireless internet connection? Am I causing problems for them? Could they access files on my computer?

Nearly all this week's respondents agree that such "piggybacking" isn't very honourable, but none seems aware that a Londoner was found guilty of this last summer, receiving a £500 fine and 12 months' conditional discharge. Nevertheless, it is widespread; in the rush to set up wireless networks, most people are so staggered at the technological leap they've made that they forget about security measures. Richard Miller writes: " It's possible that neighbours are letting you share their connection, but it's more likely they just left the default wireless settings unchanged."

The odd e-mail check or net search would probably go unnoticed by a neighbour, but download significant amounts of data and you'll reduce their surfing speeds, and possibly push them over their download limit. Obtain copyrighted or illegal files, and you'll put them in contravention of their agreement with their ISP.

Connecting to an open wireless network puts your own security at risk; if you have file-sharing enabled but don't have passwords in place (common in home set-ups), anyone on that network can access your shared folders. Emma Brett writes: "Someone was using my connection, and I noticed he was sharing some files. One was his CV, so I contacted him, asking him to stop." Alex Tea adds: "People may have viruses on their machines that could infect other machines on the network."

So, how do you protect against inquisitive or malicious neighbours? Wireless modems and routers offer various security options, but many can be cracked. "One local resident," Ben Henley writes, "has a network catchily named ABCDEFG, with an identical password." Richard Wolfe of the wireless specialists Digital Plumbers advises using WPA security, now standard with new wireless modems and routers: "It's a lot more secure, and is generally unhackable by the average person."

Of course, a few benevolent souls leave their networks open deliberately. In the Cotswolds, there's a chap called Andrew who apparently operates a network extending to a layby on the B4077 outside Winchcombe. See you there.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Jason Milner:

"Why are mobile phones still so terrible at retrieving and displaying even the most simple information from the internet?" Readers' comments, and questions for the Cyberclinic should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

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