Internet Piggy Backing: Are You at Risk?

May 21, 2007 - Posted at 3:25 p.m. CDT

REGION 8 -- It's when someone, a next door neighbor or a stranger parked across the street, finds an open network and logs on to someone else's connection, perhaps yours.  But how can you tell if it's happening to you?  It seems like everybody's going wireless.  It's much more convenient, but is it safe?

"If you don't have a secure wireless access point and if I'm a hacker who wants to send out a virus to the whole world, I'm going to come park in front of your house and use your internet to send this virus out so when it's traced, it's traced back to you," said Jason Smith of Binary IT Solutions, INC.

Smith owns his own computer company.  He says the odds are in the hackers favor that your internet connection is not secure.

"I would say over 60% of people who have wireless, especially home users, are at a risk of some kind," said Smith, "The ones that are available to be hacked are the ones without locks on them."

And you might be amazed at how easy it is to find those open connections.  Smith went on a short ride and with his laptop computer, looked for opportunities to piggyback on someone else's computer. There were plenty to choose from.

"There's one right there; we can come back to it, signal's getting good right here," said Smith.

Once Smith arrived at this housing development, it was simply a matter of which connection to choose.

"We've got 189 access points that have popped up since we left downtown.  Of that 189, 75 are unencrypted," said Smith.

Potential victims could even be this police officer who lives in this neighborhood.  But in this case, Smith selected a woman who came out to get her mail.  He arrived with a special delivery message.

"I could use your internet if it were turned on and I can change all the settings in your router, passwords, wireless signal, encryption, block you out from being able to of doing anything or anything like that, ha ha," said Smith.

The homeowner had no idea that she could be a potential victim because she says she turns her computers off.

"I didn't know that it could, once I turned the modem off, I thought it was off, it was blocked," said internet user Arlene Scully.

In this case, smith, the would-be hacker, turned out to be the good guy and came to Scully's rescue.  She was lucky.  He went into her home and secured the connections on both of her computers, making Scully feeling much better about being protected.

"Oh definitely yes, I feel like, it was always an issue in the back of my mind but now I feel a little bit more secure," said Scully.

Still, Smith says there's never a guarantee your connection won't be bothered even with protection, but having it might send a person, driving through your neighborhood looking for someone to victimize, off to another location.