Nowadays our society lives and breathes for Wi-Fi. We ask for Wi-Fi passwords in stores, at restaurants, and when we go to a friend’s house, that’s the first thing people ask for. I know this because I am a millennial guilty of obsessively connecting to Wi-Fi whenever I get the chance. But what happens when there are risks involved in this Wi-Fi sharing? Turns out, after a bit of research, sharing your Wi-Fi has multiple consequences regarding network privacy, virus and malware protection, legal issues and performance decline.

I will be the first to admit that I am not extremely tech oriented. I certainly don’t know much about the inner workings of a router or how my Wi-Fi connection actually works. However, early on in my research it became apparent that sharing your Wi-Fi password with a friend or neighbor essentially gives them complete access to your home network. In turn, whomever holds the Wi-Fi password has the encryption password to your system, meaning your network is no longer protected from that individual. It’s even possible that they gain access to your personal files or printer, as well as the ability to view the traffic from your device. This new access can also make it easier for people to hack into your devices.

The latter may not be a problem if you trust your Wi-Fi guest, however the next problem has nothing to do with their intentions. Even if the person borrowing your Wi-Fi is trustworthy, if they become infected with a virus or malware, it has the potential to affect your own machines. Some computer owners are not as up to date on malware protection and how to keep their computer safe, so this is truly a large, indirect risk for your own device. The more people you share your password with, the larger this risk becomes.

Then comes the legal issues. First, Wi-Fi related issues can be taken very seriously. Using another person’s Wi-Fi without their consent (referred to as piggybacking) is illegal in many states according to state and federal laws. Piggybacking is a Class A misdemeanor in New York, and in Florida, a defendant faced felony charges for piggybacking. [Read more about the case here.] So just a thought: make sure you have owner’s consent before hooking up to someone’s Wi-Fi. But in terms of sharing your own Wi-Fi with others, you have to look into your provider’s service contract. The majority of Wi-Fi companies prohibit the sharing of Wi-Fi with non-paying users. While many people are unaffected by this violation, Wi-Fi internet companies indeed have the ability to recognize high usage rates of a single account, usually caused by illegal sharing. And trust me, no one wants to go to court over sharing Wi-Fi.

And finally, and maybe the most relevant, sharing Wi-Fi with multiple users makes it slower! I hope you don’t mind a little buffering during your Netflix time, because the more you share, the slower it’ll be. Wireless routers split its bandwidth between all users, and when all the bandwidth is used up you start seeing decline in performance and speeds. By having limited usage, you will be able to save bandwidth and have faster speeds.

I never thought twice about sharing Wi-Fi, but it seems that it is a good idea to take a step back before doling out the Wi-Fi password. There are various aspects to Wi-Fi sharing that are either dangerous for the machine or unethical as a customer of a service provider, and of course no one wants lagging internet speeds. A great solution is to create a guest Wi-Fi network with a separate password to give to all guests. This will keep your home network separate and secure and you don’t have to feel guilty when you deny your best friend access to your internet.

Author: Casey Carbone – Millennial, UVM Senior & BT Intern