Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

An open letter to my neighbour

To: The neighbour who owns a Belkin 54g wireless router
Dear Sir/Madam,
I would like to notify you that your Belkin 54g wireless router, with which you are using to share your network connection, is completely lacking in any form of security. Not only are you using the default SSID and default channel, but you do not employ any form of security method to stop others from using your connection.
You don’t, for example, have any kind of encryption. Almost all wireless networking technology supports a minimum of WEP encryption, which at worst will stop casual hackers from getting in. It’s likely, however, that your router, and indeed the rest of your hardware, will support WPA encryption, which is very strong and will stop less than honest neighbours stealing your bandwidth, or worse, any of your network data. You wouldn’t want someone grabbing your email passwords, now would you?
You are also not using MAC filtering. If you were, you would also stop outsiders from getting in because your wireless router would simply refuse to talk to any system not on its authorised list.
Furthermore, you are broadcasting your SSID. While this makes setting up your network much easier, it also means that any Tom, Dick or Harry can see that you have a wireless network. I’d suggest turning this off unless you regularly add the new computers to your network.
As it is, there is very little to stop me stumbling across your network and joining it, and then using your internet connection. Just be thankful that I have my own perfectly good wireless network (using WPA encryption) and no dark motives.
Yours faithfully,
Neil Turner (your neighbour)

13 Comments

  1. Even more shocking are BUSINESSES who lay their entire network bare to anybody wandering by because they didn’t secure their wireless.
    Though I rather like it when I am at the airport and somebody has sharing turned on… 🙂

  2. In all fairness, Neil, MAC filtering and SSID hiding are very weak forms of security. While they both are extra measures that might keep casual hackers out, they make setting up your network more difficult–IMO, not worth it. But to each his own. Of course, there is no substitution for WPA protection and a good password.

  3. I also had a neighbor with an open router and network. I even managed to login to their server that used a more than acceptably easy login and password – that’s how I found out who they were (a small women’s employment bureau).
    I emailed them to make them aware of the situation and they fixed it soon after that.

  4. Instead of writing a letter to your neighbour, perhaps you should write one to Belkin.
    Your neighbour may or may not be a technical person, but you’ve probably lost them by the middle of the first paragraph. Your own acronym system helpfully points out four terms that your readers might need help with, and we’re probably more geeky than most!
    Although I agree that the default wireless network security is pathetic, it’s how each box ships.
    Unless they are technically capable AND aware of the potential risks of open wireless networks the average non-techy home user will not change those settings.
    Again, the finger should be pointed at the provider for not being more responsible with wifi security, either through appropriate documentation or action (pre-secured somehow?)
    In the meantime if you are planning to send it I’d suggest rewriting your letter to be less technical, more directional and agree on a single security objective (WPA?). With the right words they might appreciate the risk more.

  5. Sven – you make some good points. Yes, the article is too technical but then I don’t really have much intention of sending the letter. I don’t actually know which neighbour has the router in question – though I’m guessing it’s next door, that could mean either side, and as these are small terraced houses with narrow streets it could concievably be someone else. The writing of the letter was merely an expression of frustration.
    And as for the acronym expansion, I realise now that MAC is being expanded as ‘Apple Macintosh’ – in which case MAC filtering would be a very bad thing :-/ .

  6. You know there are some lovely people in this world who deliberately leave their wireless network open for people to use. If you have firewall software on your PCs then you have nothing to worry about except more bandwidth usage – and on the newer routers you can just set high QOS for http traffic.
    Now that may not be the case you have, but certainly one of the houses I’ve networked recently were very insistent on leaving their wireless open to share. And we’re openly discussing sharing the connection with neighbours.

  7. My brother deliberately leaves his network open for all to use. He lives above a pub in the south of England.
    I wish I had a neighbour like yours.

  8. I don’t employ any security measures, it’s because I might need to do things on devices which don’t support security.
    Anyway, I check my router every so often to bunk unauthorised people off.

  9. Oh – and I don’t transmit much/any data over WiFi!

  10. I used to care about such things, but with the number cafe wifi hotspots, why would a hacker bother? Oh, granted, they might be sniffing someone’s home station looking for credit card numbers, but again those cafe hotspots are better for that too.
    The crime isn’t the consumer, either. The poor consumer cannot handle anything more complicated than a plug-and-play implementation. No, the REAL crime are the manufacturers. First, they sell stations with default insecure configurtions. But worse, the documentation frequently reads “Congratulations, your wireless connection is now working. If you would like to secure your connection you can turn to Appendix A, otherwise you’re ready to go!”
    And don’t even TALK to me about actually IMPLEMENTING the security features: the interfaces and instructions are usually cryptic, if not downright wrong. I’m a data security professional, and *I* have a hard time implementing security on some of these devices!
    As far as WEP and MAC filtering being “weak” security – big deal. With so many stations being wide open, I doubt there’s a hacker in the world who would bother cracking the lame WEP encryption. It’s like those cheap padlocks at the gym – sure you can pop them open with a screwdriver, but there’s probably an wallet in the unlocked locker right next to it…

  11. Having gone through a lot of pain (and still got some to come) with my wireless network I can happily confirm that it’s not only “plug and play” consumers that get lost in the jungle that is WiFi. The adverts make it look so simple as well.

  12. That’s very kind of you – not everyone would be so helpful. Our wireless router uses MAC address filtering, but it also broadcasts the SSID: “hellowardriver.” I see it as a way of saying “not only do I know I’m broadcasting my SSID, but I also know how to keep you from gaining access. Neener-neener.” 🙂

  13. 2 years ago it seemed I was the only person in our neighborhood using wireless. But after this Christmas….let me just say it was a nightmare trying to set-up my husband’s PDA on our network. Some 7-10 additional “unsecured” and very visible AP’s suddenly sprouted on the available network scans. I had to manually eliminate the rouge networks from the allowed list just get his new PDA set-up! I agree it is a generous person who (regardless of security concerns) allows his friends and neighbors to access his Wi-Fi. However, after my recent experience adding Wi-Fi connections to my own network I tend to view “unsecured” wireless AP’s more like neighbors playing loud, obnoxious music….eventually it get’s on your nerves!