Myths and Facts About Open Wireless
  • Doesn't opening my wireless network reward "freeloaders"? +
    No way! Most wireless networks use only a small fraction of their capacity. Sharing capacity helps everyone, eliminates waste, and increases the efficiency of the network. And it has nothing to do with freeloaders—if you've ever been without Internet access and needed to check an email, you will remember how useful open networks can be in a pinch.
  • Is opening my network a security risk? +
    If you are running an open network, it is NOT the case that anyone can break into your computer, and you are still, by and large, in a safe situation. If you are running a separate “guest” network apart from your primary network, you have no reason to worry. If you are running an open wireless network as your primary home network, it is important that you understand whether or not your network is set up to allow sharing, or if you can enable wireless isolation to create a firewall between users on the network so that sharing is not possible. If your network is set up to allow sharing, then you should be aware that users of your open network might be able to use devices that are attached to the network, e.g. printers, smart TVs, etc. Moreover, if your computer is set to share files over the network, those files will be accessible to anyone on your network. So if you are running an open network, and don't want strangers printing things or reading your network files, it is important to research whether you can disable sharing on your network, or to carefully check the sharing settings for each computer or device attached to the network.

    Understanding why open networks are generally safe for users requires a little more background. Websites and services that take security seriously use transport layer encryption—most notably Transport Layer Security (TLS), which underlies HTTPS. Using transport layer encryption is the gold standard for security. Since it encrypts data between your computer and the web service you are using, TLS provides a strong level of communication security whether or not you are on an open wireless network. It protects against snooping and attacks from anyone who can read the traffic passing between your computer and the website you are visiting, such as ISPs and governments as well as people on your local wireless network. The security gain from using HTTPS as much as possible is quite significant. This is why we encourage everyone to use our HTTPS Everywhere browser extension.

    On the other hand, WPA2 and other Wi-Fi security schemes protect only against an attacker on your local network, and provide only nominal protection. Very often, "securing" your wireless network will not be enough to thwart a determined attacker on your local network from being able to read and manipulate your data. Therefore, the security loss from moving to an open wireless network is less significant than you might realize, especially if you set up your network to firewall users from each other—as we recommend in our tutorials whenever possible.

    Even if WPA2 and other Wi-Fi security schemes are far from perfect and TLS is a much more comprehensive technological solution for security, we are strong advocates for security at EFF and are working toward longer-term open wireless solutions that provide link-layer security comparable to WPA2 for open networks. Savvy network operators who are concerned about security can also set up their open networks to use a VPN service, if they have access to such a service or are willing to pay for access.

  • Will opening my network make me liable for others' illegal actions? +
    This one is a bit more complicated, but the short answer is, "We don't think so." Click here to find out more.
  • Will opening my wireless network slow down my Internet connection? +
    For users whose routers give them the option of running a second "guest network" that is open, this should not slow down your primary network. We currently have a series of tutorials for how to set these networks up. In the meantime, if your router doesn't have this option, you still will most likely be able to open your network without any noticeable slowdown. Most networks have far more capacity than is used at any given time, and it is unlikely that your guests' usage will affect your experience on the Internet. However, the best test for this is an empirical one: try running an open network! If your open network is noticeably slower and you have some technical know-how, you could try figuring out if there are any power users slowing it down and ban those users, or you could simply revert to a protected network.
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