They come by night -- and, for that matter, by day -- furtively sucking the lifeblood from unprotected Wi-Fi networks wherever they find them. They're wireless bandwidth vampires.
It isn't difficult to find an unprotected wireless access these days, whether it's from a home user's wireless router or a small business or departmental access point. You need only flip open your laptop in most major cities to find a list of available networks named "default" or "linksys." And if they have they're set to their default settings, you can be sure that you'll have all the access you need.
Unprotected wireless networks that are open to all and sundry bandwidth suckers are really more of a problem for small organizations than large ones, says Forrester Research principal analyst Ellen Daley. The Wi-Fi market has bifurcated, and large enterprises have gotten smarter, and the access hardware targeted to their needs has become more secure.
"The problem is the cheap devices you can buy from places like Circuit City," Daley says. "A wireless router costs $60 today. Small business will buy them, but they come with no security enabled out of the box."
And the small business user often won't dig too deeply to set the device up for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) authentication or Wire Equivalence Protection (WEP). The whole point of wireless networking for many companies, Daley says, is convenience, and one of the big attractions of mass-market Wi-Fi is its plug-and-play simplicity, regardless of the security dangers.