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Why do we still secure wi-fi networks?
Hotels need to open up - security risks are so minimal
Written in the bar of a Barcelona hotel on a Sunday morning after a long week working across the EU and dispatched to silicon.com on the same day via a free wi-fi service.
It's been almost 20 years since I sent my first email, and shortly after that I started mobile working with a laptop sporting a 20MB hard drive and 256K of RAM.
In those days the tools of connection included a set of screwdrivers and a pair of pliers plus leads and crock clips.
There were very few electrical sockets and phone jacks - and no wi-fi at that time. So getting online often meant dismantling a hotel bedroom to get at the phone line, and a dial-up modem at 2.4Kbps or if you could afford it, 9.6Kbps, on an analogue phone.
How different it is today! The tool kit stays at home, I have no dial-up modem, and connecting by wire is unheard of. Wi-fi now seems to be ubiquitous, and if it happens to be down, a 3G dongle does the job nicely. But there has been one big irritation: passwords.
Here is a selection of hotel and airport lounge passwords I have collected over the past year:
These vary from the short and easy to crack (and possible for someone my age to type in right the first time) through to the very annoying and strong enough to protect Fort Knox.
Worse, getting this information usually means a trip down to the front desk, or a phone call where the receptionist gets it all wrong (several times) and I get very frustrated.
What a waste of time and effort!
Given that wi-fi costs less than a bar of soap to provide a hotel guest, the admin cost is about 100 per cent of the value of the service. And I won't go into the discussions I have had with hotel managers about trying to charge me £15 per day to access something which is worth zip.
But here's the good news: the last eight hotels I've stayed in across Canada, the EU, UK and US have given up the ghost. All have offered free wi-fi with no password required, plus speedy bi-directional bandwidth. Some people are obviously getting it - at long last.
I can hear the lawyers and security experts now: 'This is dangerous. It leaves the organisation open to abuse from the file sharers, criminals, terrorists etc'.
Well, I reckon it's time to get real and start thinking of the actual risk: the massive inconvenience for mobile workers and organisations, and the resulting operational costs, and productivity and efficiency losses. And all this for a miniscule risk that has been disproportionally magnified and sensationalised by experts and media alike.
Right across the planet I am finding common sense is kicking in, with individuals, communities and organisations starting to recognise the value of open networking and freedom of access.
Hopefully this will transcend wi-fi and filter down to the 2.5G and 3G micro and picocells in the home and office as well. Then we will have seamless connectivity on the move - which by the way was the original vision when this all started 20 years ago. It just got misdirected for a while by the naysayers and misguided.