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Newbie Q: Accessing unlocked Wi-Fi networks. Possible? Anonymous?

Discussion in 'iPad General Discussions' started by SmileAndWave, Mar 11, 2012.

  1. SmileAndWave
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    SmileAndWave iPF Noob

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    A while back, I got an iPad 2, my first tablet PC. This led to my first attempts to use public Wi-Fi hotspots. I went to a McDonald's restaurant and linked to its Wi-Fi connection. While scanning for the McDonald's network, I noticed some other networks and one of them was not locked. I assume it was from an adjacent building housing several small businesses. I wondered if I could use/join that network just as easily as I could join the McDonald's network (i.e., with no password required). I didn't try to connect to it.

    But it got me to wondering: assume I was out in public and needed to get online but didn't know of any public Wi-Fi hotspots like McDonald's. Assume I have the iPad check for local networks and it shows one that's not locked. Could I connect to that just by clicking on it?

    Which got me to further wondering: if I connected to that unlocked network (1) would the network owner even know, unless they were actively monitoring their network and (2) if they saw I was connected, would they have any way to track my identity?

    Two notes:
    (1) I realize that a personal/business network is something private, that the network owner probably wouldn't want the general public piggybacking on (just like I don't want people piggybacking on the wireless network at my house). I don't know the legal implications, but I'm just talking a general principle.

    (2) I'm not up to something bad. I'm just curious re: whether unlocked Wi-Fi connections are accessible by simply clicking "Join the network" and if I could be identified. I figured that if I was in a bind for a network connection, this might be a "backup plan" if it's all that was available.

    Thanks for helping me learn about this aspect of Wi-Fi use.
  2. Seadog
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    Seadog Super Moderator Staff Member

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    This is an ethical quandry. Assuming you are at a business with public wifi, it might be safe to assume that other open wifi locations near that, are also a public service. Yet using their service while not being a customer, is impolite. Think of it like public restrooms. How many times do people go into restaurant, convenience store, or Wal-Mart, just to use the bathroom. I often will buy something like a soft drink, just to feel less guilty. I have no problems with pulling into the parking lot of a McD's just to use their wifi, but considering how much money McD's makes from me, I feel they are well compensated. But how would you feel about someone coming into your house to use your bathroom, without asking?

    I do not think legality places as much of a part of this, as does ethics. You can join a network and not be detected. It should be the responsibility of the wifi owner to lock their access, but even so, it is not proper. It is like finding out that their door is unlocked. You can go through their house, but you would not because it is a violation of good manners. But if there was an emergency, that open door may be a way to save an injured neighbor. It is up to each of us to determine what constitutes an emergency. This whole issue of not being able to find a wifi spot is one reason why I use 3G services. I do not have to stop to access what I need. I like to be able to ride as a passenger and find gas stations, Wal-Marts (for pit stops), and eateries. It is a great asset.
  3. IGonz
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    IGonz iPad Fan

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    It's that simple. Unsecured residential wifi and wifi hotspots overlap here in my zip code. It is so plentiful here you can use a iPod touch as a free phone with Skype. I had to do this for a while when my land phone shut down because of my neighbors cox phone system conflicting with my land phone for weeks. Decided to leave it off and transfer my number to an iPhone.
    If I had to I have no problem using residential wifi to check my email but my phone and iPad are 3G grandfathered unlimited and more than twice as fast as most wifi except for the 4/1 meg speeds at the Honda dealership. Just more convenient to use my own.
    I always use a VPN on anything that is not my own system.
    Have my own secure wifi set up at home(CradlePoint MBR1200 router and*DOCSIS 3.0) but I do use my neighbors cox business ultimate wifi at home sometimes. My speeds are 3m/.50kbps Hers are around 60/5 I think.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2012
  4. SmileAndWave
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    SmileAndWave iPF Noob

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    Thanks Seadog and IGonz.

    So I'm correct that for an unlocked wireless access point, you just click "Join the network" or similar and it connects - no password required? And there's no way they can identify me - i.e., figure out that my iPad named (and appearing on the network as) "Fred's iPad" belongs to Fred Flintstone of Hoosgow, PA?

    Also, is this less safe than using McDonald's (for example), in terms of data security? In other words, if I use a password to access my Gmail account, are others on this local network more likely/able to intercept my information?

    Thanks again,
    SmileAndWave
  5. Seadog
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    Seadog Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Always remember that using another person's wifi without permission is theft of service. There are ways that they can detect who you are if they found out that you are on their system. Normally, if they are clueless about securing their wifi, they are clueless about intruder detection. Just do not count on it. If they catch you and want to make a case out of it, they can sue you for a lot more than you save. One other warning, if you join an unknown open network, you could be inviting a criminal to steal your information. Just as an open network is an invitation to steal the owners information, a crook can use the connection to retrieve information from you.
  6. SmileAndWave
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    SmileAndWave iPF Noob

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    Seadog, that helps me understand the situation. I appreciate your advice.
  7. MRadclyffe
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    MRadclyffe iPF Noob

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    As someone with an open network, as no Apple forum has been able to assist me on setting up WEP after my Ethernet died and I had to connect via a wireless adapter, I'd be a bit pissed off if a stranger piggy-backed the Wi-Fi that I'm paying for. Just saying.
    Business Wi-Fi, I have no problem with, but maybe stay off personal punters' punters?
  8. tlbaker
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    tlbaker iPad Ninja

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    ++++1.

    Sent from my Verizon Black 64GB iPad 2 w IOS 5.1 Update From NYC!!! using iPF.net
  9. tlbaker
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    tlbaker iPad Ninja

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    Also, if you connect to an open, unknown network to mooch off of what they already paid for and get your personal information hacked into you kinda deserve what you get!!!

    Sent from my Verizon Black 64GB iPad 2 w IOS 5.1 Update From NYC!!! using iPF.net
  10. Gabriel1
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    Gabriel1 Super Moderator Staff Member

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    IMHO, if I was one of these guys looking to steal personal data, I'd set up an open wireless network, maybe a mobile one in a busy place and let folks come to me......now I have no idea if thats what they do but I personally would think twice about joining an unknown open network.

    I also seem to recall that here in the UK there have been cases of folks being arrested and charged for parking out side homes with open networks and using their bandwidth. As mentioned above, it's theft.

    So as I see it you should think carefully before joining a network that you are uncertain about.

    The Archangel
  11. tlbaker
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    tlbaker iPad Ninja

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    Yup!!!

    Sent from my Verizon Black 64GB iPad 2 w IOS 5.1 Update From NYC!!! using iPF.net
  12. IGonz
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    IGonz iPad Fan

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    Check you wifi every once in a while on your iPad. I'm in a large gated cummunity and three of my neighbors within range have unsecure wifi and my iPad would connect to their system. The only reason I caught it was because they had a higher or lower speed that was different than mine. Once i click "forget the network" it won't connect again.
    When I get this iPad Friday I will just connect to them and do the "forget the network" thing right away.

    Another thing I might add is that people don't have to sit outside of a house any more to connect. There is a wifi antenna you can buy that has a range of one mile. I have have one of these and when I connected it at home here in S. Tulsa there were 47 unsecured residential wifi and 12 free business wifi in range.
    These antennas are great when you have a 7th floor condo on the coast. I can connect to my wifi while on the beach or while sailing. I attach it to a high point on the sailboat.
    I have my wifi extended antenna on the balcony of the condo. Range is more than two miles.
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  13. Seadog
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    Seadog Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Grand or Keystone?

    I have always been amazed at how far a wifi signal will travel. I live a 1/2 mile from another house, and I can see signals from a mile away. I have always kept my network protected since noticing people parked along the road by my house. I cannot be sure of what they are doing, but why take chances? I did know one time. A car was parked in front of my house when I came home, and I pulled in behind to see what was going on. Her actions had nothing to do with computers. There are enough places that give their wifi away. No need to take any chances.
  14. IGonz
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    IGonz iPad Fan

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    This is off the coast of Miami,Florida. Good for streaming Netflix and Slingplayer while anchored in Biscayne Bay.

    The only people I noticed in Tulsa are the police in their car using the free wifi at places like Camille's Sidewalk Cafe when driving home from work late at night.*
    I use the wpa2 With a 44 character password.
  15. KevinJS
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    KevinJS Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Let's just throw this one in for the sake of it.

    When you buy a router it has a name and password assigned to it by default eg DLINK AND 0000, or whatever.

    If you leave the defaults and hook up your iPad to it, every time you get within range of another router with the same name and password, you will automatically join that network, because your iPad will recognize it as a known network.

    I have heard that some unscrupulous people are setting up networks to use this feature, in an attempt to do whatever unscrupulous people do.
  16. Fid
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    Fid iPad Junkie

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    I know a few people who purposely keep their wifi unlocked. They will share with whomever wants to mooch. They don't do that much on the internet and feel that they are paying too much for the bandwidth. The Internet used to be free.
    Usually when I am using a business wifi I'll connect to my ISP via the VPN connection. It adds a little feeling of security for me even though I won't be punching in a credit card number or PayPal password.
    A neighbor was mooching off one of my coworkers. He decided to look around on the moocher's computer since his entire drive was shared.

    Sent from my iPad using iPF - Peace
  17. IGonz
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    IGonz iPad Fan

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    I travel a lot out of the country and use every public wifi available sometimes residential if I have to. I use my own 256bit encrypted VPN from my home in Tulsa. I don't trust any wifi but my own even locally in Tulsa.

    The people I know who use residential unsecured wifi use a VPN. Some do quick simple things like pull email,texting,or even Skype through there secured app which is what I used to do when my phone/internet shut down 3 years ago. You can do these thing in your car while stopped at a red light. You can purchase something from your secure Amazon.com app in that time.

    Your coworker friend or anyone else may think he's trying to be clever and leaving his wifi unlocked but it does not matter. The days of just using a PC are gone.
    The others who do the serious mooching have a dedicated computer for gaming or streaming have VPN. Like I said before,people who mooch now may not be your neighbor and can be up to 7 miles away. They use a VPN with computers and iphone/ipad with apps. They just don't care.
    And I don't think your coworker can do anything with a moocher using his wifi who is not even in his neighborhood and using a portable wifi radio streaming a staion in Brazil or a 40 in. wifi enabled TV streaming Netflix.

    Best to just secure your wifi.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2012
  18. LisaH
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    LisaH iPF Noob

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    If someone doesn't limit access to their internet, and it is an open connection there could be two reasons: (1) They may not know about internet security or (2) maybe they do not care if other people access their connection. If I left my wi-fi connection open and it was accessed by strangers how can I get pissed? I say if you have to use an unlocked connection in an emergency go for it. Even if it's not an emergency. It's absurd to think that people wouldn't access your wi-fi connection if it's left unlocked.*Always secure your personal network.
  19. KevinJS
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    KevinJS Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Absolutely true. It's like leaving your keys in your car and expecting someone not to take it for a spin. They MIGHT not, but do you want to run the risk.

    Sent from my iPad using iPF
  20. Wildfire
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    Pretty interesting stuff. Here is something else that affects me personally. I live in the sticks even though the next town is only 6 miles down the road. At home, no cable available and no wi-fi either. Until last year I was using dial-up to get to the Internet.
    Then Virgin Mobile BB modem stick became available. Now I have ONE bar but manage to get 10 x the speed of dial-up sometimes. At $40/mo I'm still on their unlimited to 5GB/mo plan after that they can slow me down. I usually use between 3 and 4 GB and can use the stick on all my PCs.

    So if I want to do some serious surfing, I go to the public library wi-fi. I pay taxes and that's why they decided to make access free for everyone. No PW needed. So how secure it what I do there? As I said without wi-fi at home or through a work place, I don't have PW protection.

    Tomorrow I'll get my first iPad with 64 GB Wi-Fi AND 4G LTE Verizon. Their data plan is not exactly cheap so I would stilll go to the public library for d/l and anything else that eats up GBs.
    How secure from hacking into my computer or iPad will I be?
    Appreciate any suggestions.

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