EFF and Other Groups Push For Free Open WiFi Movement

It’s an interesting proposition, to be sure: What if, instead of locking down your wireless network with the strongest encryption available, you simply left it open and unsecured so that any Dick or Jane with a WiFi-enabled device nearby can use it?

For most people, especially those who have been haranguing friends and family to protect their WiFi networks for years, this sounds completely insane. But for the members of the Open Wireless Movement--which includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Open Technology Institute, NYC Wireless, Openspectrum.eu, the Internet Archive, and more--this is the way that WiFi should be.

The general thinking on WiFi is that if you leave your network open, neighbors and passersby will use it and wreck your bandwidth, and ne’er-do-wells can do god-knows-what online using your IP address which can leave you open to all sorts of liability. The solution is to use WEP WPA, or WPA2 to encrypt your network.

EFF group
Member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Open Wireless Movement folks offer a different take on all of that. In a nutshell, they consider sharing your WiFi network being a good citizen, akin to handing an umbrella to a poor pilgrim stuck in the rain--quick, easy, very temporary assistance to someone who’s stuck. (They definitely have a point there; how many times have you found yourself in dire need of an Internet connection but no open networks around?)

They’re not suggesting that by being socially responsible it’s okay to be personally irresponsible; the OWM believes that it’s possible to keep part of one’s network available to others while protecting bandwidth and security, and there are groups of engineers to get that figured out.

There’s already something like this available on plenty of routers, and that’s the Guest Network, a feature that allows you to grant family, friends, and acquaintances easy access to your network without jeopardizing the secured portion of it.

In the meantime, if you come across an SSID reading “openwireless.org”, you’re near one of these open-on-purpose networks (unless of course it’s just an evil twin). The Open Wireless Movement has its work cut out for it, but however it comes about, more Internet access for all is probably a good thing.