Readers, I need your thoughts on an etiquette issue associated with technology. Yesterday morning I was at the San Francisco airport finishing up a story while waiting for a flight. Inspired by my colleague James over at jkOnTheRun, I had my laptop and my Verizon MiFi […]

cimg1496Readers, I need your thoughts on an etiquette issue associated with technology. Yesterday morning I was at the San Francisco airport finishing up a story while waiting for a flight. Inspired by my colleague James over at jkOnTheRun, I had my laptop and my Verizon MiFi out on the table. The MiFi is a handy little device that uses Verizon’s 3G network to provide a Wi-Fi signal for up to five devices to access the web. Using it, I can download 5GB on my laptop, iPod Touch or any other WiFi-enabled device, for $60 a month.

A fellow traveler spied the device, knew what it was (only in San Francisco), and asked if he could piggyback on my connection to do some work. I politely said no, then packed up my stuff to change locations so he would think I had to leave and not that I was a complete jerk (James over at jkOTR would also say no). But was I? I was hesitant to share my connection with a total stranger because of the potential security risks, and because I had no idea how much of my 5GB he would use. I wondered if he was the type of person who wanders over to you in a Starbucks asking to borrow your laptop so he can check his email. But in a similar situation, readers, would you share? Is it rude to ask?

  1. You did good, Stacey. Data cap issues aside, this is no different than telling your neighbor he/she can share your WiFi connection at home. It’s not right.

    1. What’s wrong with sharing a wifi link with the neighbors?
      Is it just windows security issues? Chances of getting in trouble from the ‘borrowers’ traffic?
      These can both be managed to a reasonable lower level of risk.
      Telco companies have a monopoly on internet access via 3G etc, and charge way too much for data access.
      If everyone’s wireless access points were open, the cost of sending text messages would plummet to zero, where it belongs – as an example of one benefit.

      1. You forget that these companies are in the business of making money, not supplying you with a free service. If everyone shared as you suggest, they would just have to raise the cost to those who actually paid to allow the company to continue to make a profit. When people cheat the system by trying to get something for nothing, they cost those who are honest and pay for what they use. Nothing is free. Someone has to pay for it.

      2. What’s wrong with sharing a WiFi connection? Seriously? For one, how well do you know your neighbors? You don’t know what kind of activities they engage in online. They could be pedophiles. They could be skinheads or serial killers or online stalkers. They could be anything. You don’t know.

        From a legal standpoint, allowing them to use your wireless Internet connection exposes you to whatever potentially illegal activities they may engage in. Law enforcement will trace their activities back to your wireless connection and whether you were aware of their activities or not, you’d still be in a position to have to clear your name and deal with any legal ramifications that may result from your wireless Internet connection being used in the planning or execution of illegal activities.

        This isn’t like sharing your pencil in kindergarten or passing the salt or steak sauce to an adjoining table in a restaurant. There are very real risks to sharing your wireless Internet connection with strangers. Dawn a tinfoil hat for just a second and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Then think about what you’d do if the worst really did happen. Is it worth it? If you’ve got a modicum of common sense, your answer is a resounding, “NO!”

    2. But this is not you telling your neighbor that they can use it. It’s your neighbor coming over asking whether to use it. Totally different case. But still, Stacey was right in denying to share…

    3. It’s not right? Why is it not right to share? Didn’t you learn that lesson in kindergarten? I shared my WiFi connection all the time at my old apartment. Why wouldn’t I? There is very little downside.

      As for security:
      1. If you rely on WiFi security, it is easily broken anyway. Your “secure” traffic should be on SSL, SSH, or similar. Even if WiFi was secure, it isn’t secure as soon as it hits the internet.

      Then think of the benefit to them vs. the cost to you. In a “normal” case, you pay nothing more, and they get benefit. This is the kind of situation where helping someone is a no-brainer.

      What’s more, next time, when *you* are in need of internet, wouldn’t you be glad if someone helped you? Can’t happen? Well when you come visit Japan and want to use my eMobile Pocket WiFi we’ll see…

      Why are people who have the money to buy things so stingy to others? You should be glad you are lucky and share the wealth. I am not that rich, but I help people when I can, especially when it does no harm to me.

      1. It’s polite and fine and good to unconditionally share pencils, crayons, garden tools, a cup of sugar…. things that are innocuous and returnable. But that courtesy doesn’t have to extend to an expensive, limited resource. A MiFi is just that: it can cost $40-$60 a month and for that you only get 5GB of transfer per month.

        Besides that, sharing your internet connection with neighbors is one thing: you know who they are, you know where they live, and you (hopefully) know what good and honest people they are. But there is plenty of downside in sharing an internet connection with someone you don’t know at all. Password/Virus/Security issues aside, you have no idea what that person might be doing with an internet connection that you are paying for. It could be as inconvenient as hogging your internet connection and taking up a significant amount of your 5GB monthly cap on a MiFi. It could be as inconsiderate as uploading large amounts of data and significantly increasing your latency and load times while you try do your work.

        Or, they could get you in trouble by torrenting copyrighted content that gets tracked by MPAA/RIAA (regardless of your politics on this matter, the point is they could do it and the IP would point to you, not them). Or they could do much, much worse (distribute child porn, send presidential death threats, etc, etc).

        Granted the last bits are extreme, but it boils down to you simply not knowing what this person is going to do. Whether you like it or not, anyone who uses your internet connection basically represents you on the ‘net, and if their actions are serious enough to get the attention of the right people, you end up answering for it. If someone comes knocking at your door for something the neighbors did on your shared WiFi, its easy to point to them, but some guy at an airport that you will never see again is hard to point the finger at.

        If you want to share you internet connection with total strangers, that’s all fine and good, more power to you. But I see no shame at all in saying no.

      2. This isnt about money….are you retarded or maybe still in kindergarten? There were a lot of things in kindergarten that aren’t applicable as adults with responsibilities. Do you still hold hands with classmates when you cross the street? That logic is like saying you should share your toothbrush w someone because its unlikely you will get whatever germs they have and besides they could just steal your toothbrush anyway… would you share a soda with a stranger? its not about money, its not about “making everyone pay their fair share” Its just not something you share. period. Idiots like you are the ones who end up trusting things they shouldn’t with strangers, and then cry when something bad happens that the government should have protected them. Congrats you picked the oldest scapegoat in the book. the rich. Way to really challenge yourself in this debate. You noble fool.

  2. I was once asked to share mine with visitors from an important customer. Giving them access to our corporate wi-fi would have taken too long (paperwork, etc.) so I simply gave them the default password to my MiFi, figuring we’d never be within 30 feet of each other again. In retrospect, I probably would have demurred, but under the circumstances, I felt obligated. The main visitor involved (from a leading router manufacturer) was evidently running some kind of internal IM/chat app with his corporate headquarters, and I noticed that the traffic light on my MiFi blinked constantly and my load speed decreased significantly.

  3. The Sprint MiFi has a way to set a temporary password on the fly which would be an easy way to share if obligated to do so.

  4. Sounds like you did the right thing to me. In no way are you obligated to share your connecting. Now if you want to charge them…

  5. entropy1980 Friday, July 24, 2009

    Totally rude for the person to ask. I would have told them no, and sat there. I mean really? If the guy knew what it was then he knew how much it costs a month and should no better than to ask. Sheesh!

    1. Rude to ask? Since when is it rude to ask?

      1. It is very aggressive and rude to ask. As a MiFi owner I am well aware of the privacy issues and the cost. It is also an invasion of privacy.

      2. I wouldn’t say it’s rude to ask at all. It’s part of normal human interaction to ask if someone can do something they would like to do, instead of just taking what one wants.

        However, it’s also not rude to decline such a request.

  6. Why is sharing your WiFi connection with your neighbor not right? ISP user agreements? I’m a FON user, which exists only because people everywhere _do_ share their wifi. Any data that really needs to be secure is protected at a level higher than your wifi encryption.

    1. Jdk, in a perfect world I’d say yes, absolutely! However, this world is far from perfect. Perhaps that guy you shared your internet with used it to emailed a bomb threat, transferred thousands of credit cards numbers he stole, or perhaps he is IMing underage children. I admit the first two cases are extreme; however, the third…maybe not so much. And think about this…if one were to partake in illegal activity any criminal with half a brain knows it’s not smart to use any IP address that is going to be traced back to them. Normally such an individual would piggyback off an unsecured Wifi (or one “secured” with WEP;) . However, this requires the user to either try finding a hotspot which doesn’t require registration (I’m guessing they’re out there, though not 100%) or parking near an unsecured AP (ie: in front of someone house–I’m assuming the business community have gotten the message by now). Therefore, each of those presents some sort of risk (old lady down the block calls the police).

      Now with Mifi and other similar technologies, new opportunities are available for anyone desiring a level of anonymity. As police and investigators get more sophisticated, criminals will inevitably try to stay one step ahead. I would assume that a Mifi basestation operates similar to your home router–the ISP allots the subscriber one public IP address, connected equipment uses a private address, and the basestation performs NAT. So guess who law enforcement will be scheduling an appointment with…YOU!

      I truly hate taking the cynical position since after all there’s a lot of upstanding people in this world and the biggest crime they ever committed was downloading a couple of copyrighted songs or burned a copy of Windows (before M$ started with the activation s**t) for the guy at work. But seriously, I would venture a guess that I’m not the only person who’s thought of this. Moreover, I don’t know how far the police would go once you told them your “convenient story” (more cynicism–though I’ll leave that for another rant:) about this guy that walked up to you and momentarily used your internet. And of course, how many details will you remember after a week…a month since that fateful day. After all, it’s not like you took a CC imprint and copied his driver’s license.

      If after all these scenarios, you still feel like you must share, there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself. First and foremost, setup a GOOD software firewall to keep your new buddy from finding that network share of your C-Drive you forgot about or capturing valuable information which might get leaked by YOUR computer. It’ll also serve to plug the numerous vulnerabilities that plague Windows (to be fair, any major OS, aside from perhaps Linux, has significant weaknesses). Two, to be doubly safe, disable the “File and Printer Sharing” and “Client for MS Networks” since you shouldn’t need them when you’re by yourself browsing the internet. If you’re using a VPN and need these, read about split-tunneling and why it’s bad. Third, keep your OS and apps updated–you’re should be doing that anyway! Lastly, I’m not sure if someone might actually mind this, but ask them for any gov-issued ID. Make a mental note (better yet, write it down) of their full name or an ID# on the card. You might consider explaining to them why you’re requesting this information; that should serve to quell their confusion. And since you only have a name or ID#, which isn’t very private in the first place, they should be cooperative in knowing that nothing malicious can be done to them. Unless, on the off chance you do get an unexpected visit by the police, that info should be more than enough for a positive identity. Though I’d bet that someone with criminal aspirations would simply decline or say they don’t have an ID on them. In which case politely, but firmly, deny them access.

      All things considered, I personally wouldn’t allow a stranger to use of my internet connection or [especially] my notebook. The risks are simply unacceptable! This is also why I will never ask a stranger to use their internet; it’s just not polite to burden someone with that much risk. Most people would be very wary if a stranger asked to barrow their car. We need to apply the same common sense when it comes to technology! Obviously this post barely scratches the surface, but I hope it’s served to open some eyes.

      And if you’re wondering, no, I’m not involved with any criminal endeavors. I’m a engineering major with a passion for computer security, and at least for now, living without mobile broadband.

  7. There are only so many Skittles in a bag…

    You shouldn’t feel bad about saying no to the request. In the new day web, giving away something is the norm. Chris Anderson wrote a book about it; FREE. We are getting more and more accustomed to things being free and when we have something that isn’t (MyFI) or has a cap, our internals go out of whack when we choose not to share.

    Maybe you should monitor your monthly draw on the 5Gb limit. If at the end of one month you see you only use 2.5Gb, then maybe next time you won’t be so hesitant to say yes to this kind of request.

    BTW…I love Skittles.


  8. Andy Burnett Friday, July 24, 2009

    Sadly, I think you are right. I wouldn’t be particularly worried about the data cap, but the security issue is important. You don’t know what viruses might be running on the other person’s machine, and we do have to take data security seriously.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham Friday, July 24, 2009

      So as a non hacker, I’m actually not sure how big of a security risk I would take by letting someone on my Wi-Fi connection. Realistically, what are the risks?

      1. According to Bruce Schneier, it’s not much of a real risk. A good article:


  9. You’ve been very cheap!

  10. Tina Schumacher Friday, July 24, 2009

    I can’t believe he asked. You were in the right. I consider this under the umbrella of hygiene issues. I don’t drink from strangers cups, or ask to use their cell phones, coats or personal space.


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