Over the past few months, there has been a conversation online about the value of open source software, especially security software. This, this course, was spawned by the disaster caused by OpenSSL and their two security issues over just a few weeks, followed by the troubles of an open source hard drive encryption program.
Companies and individuals have, understandably, become more weary of using open source products because of the ease of access to discover security vulnerabilities. Despite this trend, the Electronic Freedom Foundation has released an open source firmware for Internet routers that allows you to give complete strangers access to your Internet connection without asking permission.
Clearly, there are a number of security concerns with this concept, but let's talk about the goal of this move first. The idea is that, with an open Internet connection, people will be less likely to try and hack your router. On their website, OpenWireless, they said,
We are aiming to build technologies that would make it easy for Internet subscribers to portion off their wireless networks for guests and the public while maintaining security, protecting privacy, and preserving quality of access. And we are working to debunk myths (and confront truths) about open wireless while creating technologies and legal precedent to ensure it is safe, private, and legal to open your network.
With the ability to connect to just about any router wherever you are, your mobile data usage could shrink significantly. While AT&T and Verizon might not like to see data usage drop, your wallet almost certainly would.
Now, on the other hand, there is the security and legal issues to overcome. First, it is currently not legal in most places to connect to a private router without the owner's permission. That would definitely make opening up your router to the public a bit of a problem. Luckily for supporters, as the EFF says, they are working to legalize the practice.
Personal security is the chief concern with this technology, however. By giving access to your connection, you are exposing yourself to a number of legal and privacy issues. For example, someone on your connection, reporting as your IP address, could download a movie and get caught for it. Your IP address is tied to your personal identity, though, so as far as the law is concerned, the offense originated in your home, making you personally responsible.
More importantly, though, is the overall protection of your data. With an open source firmware, you are leaving your router more susceptible to attack from people who might want to steal data from you. What data might you have that someone could steal? You probably bank online, you have tax return information, possibly documents with personal identification - all stuff that could fetch a high price online from people who would steal your identity. Definitely not a great place to allow for easy access.
I totally understand the idea and the desire for open Internet access; the price of mobile data is insane on the top two carriers. However, creating it at the detriment of your privacy or security seems not to be a great idea.