The Open Wireless Movement – led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and supported by Mozilla among others – is
to launch software which will allow for wireless networks to be opened up for use safely en masse, foiling attempts to track individuals through online activity.
EFF activist Adi Kamdar, who co-ordinates the foundation's open access advocacy activities, told The Irish Times the move was about getting away from a web-usage model "which creates a privacy-invasive norm of using the internet".
Said Mr Kamdar: “Using wireless networks – which exist all around us – is not only more efficient but also can be privacy-friendly.”
The Open Wireless Movement will unveil its free WiFi router firmware at next month’s Hackers on Planet Earth conference in New York.
An operating system which allows web-users and businesses to open wireless networks “without compromising their security or sacrificing bandwidth”, a major aim of the new software will be to combat IP addresses being used to identify a person, therefore creating a more anonymous version of the internet.
Utilising the new tool, says the Open Wireless Movement website, will mean “the false notion that an IP address could be used as a sole identifier is finally a thing of the past, creating a privacy-enhancing norm of shared networks”.
Michele Neylon, chief executive with Irish web-hosting company Blacknight, said the move was based around "a needle in a haystack concept, by creating a haystack you render each user a needle".
Neylon said that, in a “post-Snowden world”, the idea may appeal to web-users who had previously “never thought about mass surveillance or the complete abuse of user privacy that a lot of governments were involved in over the past few years”.
Security concerns of using open wireless connections would be, admitted Mr Kamdar, a difficult hurdle for the group to jump though.
“It’s understandable to equate an open wireless connection with a lack of security. That’s why we are focusing on building a router system that emphasises security – even on the open network– so users can be assured their traffic is safe.”
An FAQ section on the Open Wireless Movement website adds that it’s “not the case” that running an open network will open a user’s devices to attack as long as they run a separate “guest” network.
However, one problem Ms Neylon identified with the idea is a situation where “random strangers access and use an internet connection” for illegal activities. “You could end up in a world of pain if someone is using the connection to hack financial institutions, for example,” said the Blacknight boss.