Piggybacking: What it is And How to Avoid

Piggybacking is a phenomenon that often goes unnoticed. However, don't think of it as someone simply hitching a ride on your WiFi. These uninvited visitors can be hazardous to your network security and even have legal consequences.

What is Piggybacking?

Piggybacking is the unauthorized use of someone else’s wireless internet connection. It occurs when an individual connects to a WiFi network without the owner's permission. They are effectively ‘hitching a ride' on their internet service. 

This seemingly harmless act can have significant implications, ranging from reduced internet speeds for the legitimate user to more severe security breaches. For example, if a hacker uses your WiFi to commit crimes, you may face some liability.

How Piggybacking Works

To carry out a Piggybacking attack, the attacker scans for WiFi networks within their range. They typically look for networks that are either unprotected or protected with weak security. Either of these conditions makes it much easier for them to access the network.

They can connect directly if the network is unsecured (no password required). Alternatively, attackers will use various methods to guess or crack passwords for poorly secured networks.

Once connected, the piggybacker can use the internet as if it were their own. Since most of the information about this access is merely logged on the router, Piggybacking is often unknown to the original owner.

How to Prevent Piggybacking Attacks

Protecting your WiFi network from piggybacking is crucial for maintaining internet security and privacy. Here are effective strategies to fortify your network against unauthorized access:

  • Strong Passwords: Use complex and unique passwords for your WiFi network. Avoid common words or phrases and include a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • WPA3 Encryption: Ensure your router is set to the latest encryption standard, WPA3, which offers improved security over its predecessors.
  • Change Default Settings: Modify the default username and password for your router's admin settings. Default credentials are often easily accessible to attackers.
  • Disable WPS: While convenient, WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) can be a security vulnerability. Consider disabling it.

Piggybacking vs Tailgating: What's The Difference?

While they may seem similar, Piggybacking and Tailgating differ significantly in method and context. The terms are often confused. However, it's also essential to understand that Piggybacking and Tailgating have different threat levels.

Piggybacking is typically characterized by an outsider connecting to a private network without the owner's permission. It usually exploits weak security measures like unsecured networks or easily guessable passwords. 

On the other hand, tailgating is more about gaining unauthorized access through direct interaction with an authorized user. This could mean using someone's network access credentials or following them into a secured network portal.

Examples of Piggybacking

There are several common scenarios where we see Piggybacking occur:

  • Home Network Intrusion: A typical example involves an individual using their neighbor's unsecured WiFi network. This often goes unnoticed till the network's performance declines or the unauthorized access is accidentally discovered.
  • Business Breach: Small businesses have been victims of piggybacking, where outsiders have exploited weak WiFi security to gain access. In some cases, this has led to sensitive business information being compromised.
  • Public WiFi Exploitation: Public WiFi networks, like those in cafes or libraries, are frequent targets. Piggybackers may use these networks to conduct illegal activities, leaving the establishment unwittingly liable.

While Piggbackers can face legal consequences if caught, many are unaware that their victims can also face some legal liabilities. Some examples include:

  • Responsibility for Illegal Activities: If a piggybacker uses your WiFi to conduct illegal activities (such as fraud), there could be an initial presumption that the network owner is responsible.
  • Negligence Claims: In some cases, if it's found that you did not take reasonable steps to secure your WiFi network, you could be seen as negligent. This is particularly relevant if the piggybacking leads to a data breach or impacts others.
  • Breach of Contract: Your agreement with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) often includes network security and responsible usage clauses. Allowing unauthorized access through negligence might breach this contract.

How Piggybacking Affects Your Network

Even if you don't feel the effects, Piggybacking will have some impact on your network bandwidth. The scope varies, but it could affect you in several ways:

  • Bandwidth Drain: Unauthorized users consume network bandwidth. This can slow down internet speeds for legitimate users, impacting activities like streaming, gaming, or business operations.
  • Latency Issues: Increased traffic from piggybackers can cause higher latency, resulting in delays and reduced responsiveness in network communications.
  • Vulnerability to Hacking and Attacks: Piggybackers on a network might exploit vulnerabilities to launch attacks, such as man-in-the-middle attacks or to install malware.

Final Thoughts

Piggybacking is a significant security concern with far-reaching implications. From bogging down network performance to posing severe legal and financial risks, the impacts of unauthorized network access are profound and multifaceted. 

Individuals and businesses alike must recognize the importance of securing their networks. Implementing strong passwords, using advanced encryption, and staying vigilant about network access are not just recommendations; they are necessities.

Timothy Shim

Tim is a former tech journalist turned web technology junkie. He spends his time exploring the best in digital privacy and security tools. Meanwhile, experiments with SEO continue to increase his blood pressure. ( Contact Tim on Linkedin )

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.