Courier Staff Writer
Welcome to the world of passive-aggressive Internet.
For most people, a home Wi-Fi connection is a convenient utility. But unlike electricity, it’s a utility any stranger wandering by the house with a state-of-the-art cell phone can “borrow.”
Smartphones, iPads and other devices all scan areas for Wi-Fi connections and show you the results. And those results show up regardless of whether they are password protected.
If those strangers surf the web using your wireless Internet connection, “they’re using your ‘bandwidth.’ They’re not paying for that, you are,” said Micah Mayfield, manager of the Oskaloosa office, and acting manager at the Ottumwa branch of OT Communication Solutions, the U.S. Cellular dealer downtown.
Some places have virtually unlimited bandwidth, but most private individuals with wireless Internet only get so much usage per month. If they exceed that, they have to pay the overage. People “piggybacking” off of your connection typically don’t care about that, said Mayfield.
“It is stealing.”
Not only that, but whatever they’re doing on the ‘net gets traced back to your computer’s Internet address, he said, whether unauthorized users are ordering bomb-making supplies or harassing someone.
“Having a secure connection is very important,” said Mayfield, who handles tech support and computer security issues for the company’s local operation.
Recently, a technician left one store’s Wi-Fi unsecured for about a month. More than 50 unauthorized devices logged on during that time.
One way to keep people from borrowing a Wi-Fi connection they’re not paying for is to use a password. That’s what Mayfield recommends.
But the more entertaining method is easy enough to see around town. Ottumwa Wi-Fi owners just scare Internet-surfing-poachers with a sign.
It’s doubtful that visitors would be flocking to — or welcomed by — the owners of the Ottumwa connections labeled “FBI Surveillance Van” or the one named “FBIUndercoverVan.”
Less subtle than those listings are Wapello County Wi-Fi names like “Payup-Sucker,” “MyStuff” and “nachowifi” (say it out loud).
Others have a more playful attitude. A drive around town located “The Funny Farm” “Hotel California” and “Ground Control.”
And, just in case the people shouting about the end of the world are right, there’s “Bunker 87B.”
Finally, in an instance of owners apparently happy with their connection, the Courier drove past Ottumwa’s “pretty_fly_for_a_wifi.”
Those are funny, said Mayfield, just be careful to secure both the router and the Internet connection. Those wireless hotspots his company puts out? They come password protected — and users can’t leave them unsecured.
Just to make a point, he temporarily changed his own secure connection to “pretty_shy_for_a_wifi.”