Many homes and small companies are using Wi-Fi access points so that their computers can establish a wireless connection to the internet. It is still not uncommon for such access points, the devices with antennae that can transmit and receive data, to have no measures implemented to prevent undesired connections by other computers.
It has often been asked whether people who log into unprotected access points are stealing. The analogy often used is that it’s like being able to walk onto your neighbour’s house just because his front door isn’t locked, then tapping into his cable TV connection, run the cable back to your house and then watch TV for free.
This analogy, however, is false. An excellent analogy I have read goes as follows: You ring the doorbell of your neighbour’s house, the butler opens the door. Then you ask if it’s OK to watch cable TV, the butler then answers “sure, no problem.” So are you stealing cable television? No, you’re not.
The butler is simply carrying out his masters instructions, or otherwise used his own discretion when the master fails to provide explicit instructions. The open access point device is to internet access, what the friendly butler is to cable TV.
In other words: people with open access points have delegated decisions, regarding who to grant access to the network, to the access point’s software. It can decide for itself who gets permission to access your network, as you have implicitly or explicitly given it permission to do. That means that it is broadcasting its presence to the world, and any computer in the vicinity who kindly asks permission to log on, is indeed given permission to do so. This is not a mistake, this is by design.
Believe it or not, there are quite a few individuals who deliberately want to leave their access points open. It’s a philosophical decision for some, who hope that someday internet access will be open and freely available everywhere on earth, through open access points.
So there is nothing wrong about accessing open access points, and it’s certainly not stealing.