Open Wireless Movement Wants People To Open Up Their Wi-Fi To Everyone

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Open Wireless Movement says W-Fi should be open by default and wants industry to work together to make it safe, easy and legal

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)-led Open Wireless Movement (OWM) wants individuals and businesses to open up their wireless networks to the general public and hopes to develop standards and technologies that will allow them to do so.

The OWM is billed as a coalition of Internet freedom advocates, companies and technologies and aims to build technology that can make it easy for people to partition off their wireless networks without compromising their bandwidth or security.

High profile supporters

small_wifi01Mozilla and security expert Bruce Schneier are high profile supporters of the project, which claims that open networks would use spectrum more efficiently and make the Internet open by default.

“Whenever I talk or write about my own security setup, the one thing that surprises people—and attracts the most criticism—is the fact that I run an open wireless network at home,” says Schneier. “There’s no password. There’s no encryption. Anyone with wireless capability who can see my network can use it to access the internet.

“To me, it’s basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea.”

Protection for users

Many routers allow users to offer a guest network and anyone who wishes to participate in the movement can do so by naming their network ‘openwireless.org.’ The OWM says part of its mission is to convince people it is legal and safe to do this, but adds it also wants to educate people about some of the problems.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) explicitly ban subscribers from sharing their network with outsiders and the OVM is keen to sign up as many ISPs as possible to its cause, and will provide a list of OVM-friendly companies.

The EFF believes that many of the protections offered to ISPs that prevent them from being implicated by illegal activity on their networks should be applicable to someone opening up their network

However ISPs in the US must have a repeat infringement policy in place that informs guests they will be banned from an access point if they use it for illicit means such as hacking or illegal downloading. The EFF has provided such a policy for participants to use so they are protected by such measures.

Copyright benefits

Another benefit of an open Internet would make it even more difficult to associate an IP address with an individual. This would reduce the likelihood of copyright trolls accusing individuals of illegal downloading, often with flimsy evidence, in the hope they will agree a settlement for fear of being drawn into a lengthy and costly court battle.

wifi hotspotThe police currently suggest you shouldn’t open your network in case it can be used for illicit purposes, but the EFF argues that even password protected networks can be broken and that law enforcement officials should be trained to detect open networks and anonymising technologies such as proxies in their investigations.

Open standards

The OVM wants the support of developers and manufacturers in order to develop technologies that support an open Internet, and according to ArsTechnica, the organisation is set to launch an open sourced router firmware called Open Wireless Router in the near future.

This firmware would allow a user to open up their connection but separate it from their own activities. It will initially only be available with one router, with a view to being used in other models, and it is possible the OVM could launch its own product.

A global open Wi-Fi network could one day pose a threat to closed or managed wireless networks such as BT Wi-Fi, which offers access to five million hotspots if its customers agree to offer some of the bandwidth of their home connection so it can operate as an access point.

The presence of multiple closed Wi-Fi networks that require multiple log-ins or subscription fees has resulted in many businesses turning to firms like iPass, which make it simpler to access Wi-Fi across 120 countries and on many planes. However the creation of a global, secure, free open wireless network could threaten its existing business model.

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