Using Common Sense When Sharing a Wireless Network

Today I received an email from an NYCwireless supporter about sharing out their organization’s Wi-Fi network. I thought it was a general enough request for information that I’d share our viewpoint and suggestions with other NYCwireless readers:

Should we share our password-protected network with a neighbor???

Hi. Thanks for your advocacy.

We recently password-protected our Verizon wireless network. (We were having intermittency issues and this was one of the remedial measures we chose to take.) And we just got a call from someone who’ll be staying in the neighborhood for a few months, asking to share our network for a nominal fee. We are community-minded and inclined to oblige such a request, but we are concerned about security breaches, given that we are a professional organization and have sensitive data on our network to protect, etc.

Can you advise as to the potential consequences?

I can recommend that you use common sense here. If you have private/sensitive data on your network, then common sense says you shouldn’t allow people onto the network unless you trust them or you have proper safeguards in place to protect the data even if someone gets access to your network. Such safeguards–disk encryption, strong passwords, moving the data to a computer that isn’t network accessible, segmenting the network so that only wired computers can get access to data on a server–are all good ideas regardless of whether you operate a public wi-fi network or not.

Further, I doubt that your intermittency issues have any relation to whether your network is password protected or not. Far more likely are sources of interference, which can sometimes be addressed by either (a) moving your access point, or (b) changing the wireless channel of your access point. Putting a password on a network will do nothing to address connectivity issues.

If you are community minded, and part of how you want to provide a service to the community is to provide a free wi-fi network to nearby people, I would recommend you put a proper hotspot online. We can help you out with that, and your neighbors will be able to access your hotspot free and clear of any passwords. Unfortunately, providing a password to a single community member isn’t providing a service to your community, it’s providing a service to a single person.