EFF, 9 other groups, push Open Wireless Movement

‘We envision a world where sharing one's Internet connection is the norm’


Forging ahead with an initiative that proved controversial when floated last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and nine other groups today are advancing the Open Wireless Movement to encourage ubiquitous sharing of Internet access.

Central to the effort is the Open Wireless Movement website, which provides FAQs and how-to tips for users, small businesses, ISPs and developers.

"We envision a world where sharing one's Internet connection is the norm," said EFF Activist Adi Kamdar, in a press release.  "A world of open wireless would encourage privacy, promote innovation, and benefit the public good, giving us network access whenever we need it.  And everyone - users, businesses, developers, and Internet service providers - can get involved to help make it happen."

Security and legal concerns have headed the list of objections to the concept. Here's how the Open Wireless Movement addresses them on its site:

 Is opening my network a security risk?

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. If you run an open network, it does NOT mean that other people will be able to break into your computer or steal your personal information, though it's always good to be conscious of whether your computer is set up to share documents and resources on your local network. You may want to turn off sharing for open wireless networks for added safety.

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.

The detailed explanation isn't much more reassuring than "we don't think so."

As for the fact that most ISPs prohibit such open sharing in their terms of use, the Open Wireless Movement suggests that they shouldn't and provides a list of those that don't.

In addition to EFF, the Open Wireless Movement coalition includes: Fight for the Future, Free Press, Internet Archive, NYCwireless, the Open Garden Foundation, OpenITP, the Open Spectrum Alliance, the Open Technology Institute, and the Personal Telco Project.

(Update: More about the benefits from EFF's Kamdar in a blog post here.)

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