If you're like me, you have the incredibly unpleasant task of doing tech support for your mother. Don't get me wrong. I love my mother. Readers will remember she is the one who dressed me up as a football playing ghost on Halloween, painted a giant "69" on my chest, and sent me out to the neighbors. How can you NOT love a woman like that?! Yet, frankly, after having to reset her wireless router forty eight times because she keeps forgetting the password, you begin to wish there was some Logan's Run age limit for mothers with computers.
I know, I know. Wireless routers are an absolute bitch. Truth be told, the manufacturers don't make it easy with their alphabet soup of encryption anagrams (WPA, WEP, WPA2) not to mention the confusing compatibility standards of 802.11(b) or (g) or (omfg). Is it any surprise that the majority of wireless router owners do the absolute minimum of just plugging it in with security disabled? After all, if the hot chick in the apartment next door wants to piggyback onto your wireless broadband, what's the harm? Nothing, unless her boyfriend decides to use your router to download kiddie porn.
The three words you don't EVER want to hear coming from outside your front door are "Police! Search Warrant!" Even worse is when the Warrant is for all your computers and electronic devices which are suspected of storing your downloaded cache of child pornography. Unfortunately, the scenario of being wrongfully accused of trafficking in child pornography is not an academic exercise. As recently as this past March, a Buffalo N.Y. man awoke to the sound of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agents breaking down his back door to serve a search warrant. An investigator with Homeland Security, utilizing peer-to-peer software, connected to a user who allowed the file sharing of images and videos depicting children engaged in sexual acts. The agent was able to determine the IP address used to share the child pornography and trace it back to the home of the owner of the wireless router. After several days of pouring over the homeowners computer devices, the agents determined that the router owner had not downloaded the images. Sure enough, the homeowner's wireless network was not protected and police subsequently arrested a next door neighbor who they allege leeched off of the open wireless network.
This homeowner was lucky. Well... maybe lucky is the wrong word. Having Federal Agents scream that you are a pedophile while pointing assault weapons at your head might not be the classic definition of good fortune. However, he was lucky in the sense that the actual pedophile was not very good at covering his tracks. An open wireless network is an invitation to not only access your Internet connection but your home network as well. A skilled hacker could easily use your personal hard drive as a pornographic staging area making you appear as someone who did, in fact, download what the police think you downloaded. Suddenly you're not staring down the barrel of an MP5, but of an indictment under 18 U.S.C. 2252. Better get a good lawyer. (Ahem!).