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Is there a word or phrase that means "use other people's wifi or Internet service without consent"? I think some people are able to use other people's wifi without consent even if they're password protected, is there a word that means exactly that? I don't know any word used to say that.

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    @Lambie Why not? There's a verb in English that means "throw (a frog) into the air from the end of a stick". – userr2684291 Aug 26 at 17:03
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    @userr2684291 - Your comment led me to this M-W blog post, an entertaining caution to anyone who thinks, "There can't be a word for that." – J.R. Aug 26 at 20:46
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One word used is piggybacking, given by Wikipedia as

Piggybacking on Internet access is the practice of establishing a wireless Internet connection by using another subscriber's wireless Internet access service without the subscriber's explicit permission or knowledge.

One definition of piggyback given by Lexico is

piggyback
VERB

1.1 Link to or take advantage of (an existing system or body of work)
they have piggybacked their own networks on to the system

  • +1, I'm not so good at computers, so I'm wondering if hacking could go, just out of curiosity. – Lucian Sava Aug 26 at 17:29
  • @LucianSava it is a form of hacking, but that has a more broad use. For example, hacking into a server does probably not involve wifi. – Weather Vane Aug 26 at 17:31
  • For what it's worth, this term is also listed at netlingo.com, which is essentially an online computer dictionary. – J.R. Aug 26 at 20:43
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    Piggybacking is a mostly neutral term in this context, as it's entirely cromulent to say that my neighbor lets me piggyback on his gigabit Internet connection. – chrylis -on strike- Aug 27 at 5:40
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    While wikipedia uses this term, I've never really heard it commonly in use. Far more prevalent, imo, is the term "wi-fi squatting" or "wireless squatter". See WIRED : Is Wi-Fi Squatting Illegal?, PC-Mag : Wi-Fi Squatting. When I think of "piggybacking" I think of someone walking away from a public PC, leaving the browser or system logged in with their account that the "piggybacker" then proceeds to use. – J... Aug 27 at 16:57
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The quintessential idiomatic term in this context is leech (vt, or as n the person doing it). Per Wiktionary,

  1. (figuratively) A person who derives profit from others in a parasitic fashion.

Urban Dictionary's top definition lists "parasite" and "freeloader" as synonyms.

Leech in this sense is very common slang in technical circles and especially file-sharing, where it refers specifically to downloading files but not staying online to share them. A Google search for "leeching Wi-Fi" turns up a full page of results describing the exact activity in the question.

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    I generally prefer "leech" in this case (and I definitely hear it more) especially because it differs from "piggyback" in that it emphasizes a dislike toward the act. "Piggybacking" sounds fairly neutral, whereas "leeching" definitely expresses the aforementioned parasitic behavior. (Compare "I don't mind you piggybacking on my wifi," to "I don't mind you leeching my wifi;" the latter sounds a little odd, IMO.) – Eric Aug 27 at 21:44
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The best [American, maybe not British] English word for this is probably mooching. It specifically refers to using a resource that's not well-guarded, either without permission or overstepping intended level of permission, in a way that's annoying or inconvenient to others but not severe enough to be treated as theft. Other examples of mooching include:

  • Consuming snacks from employee break area as meals.
  • Dropping in a bank that has free lolipops for customers' children with no actual business to conduct, just to get lolipops.
  • Consuming a roommate's food from their [section of the] refrigerator, or consistently consuming more than your fair share from food purchased jointly for use by oneself and roommates.
  • Using a roommate's car that they always fill with gas.

The term mooching is also used fairly often for legitimate use of social welfare programs for their intended purposes, when the speaker either doesn't understand or doesn't accept those intended purposes.

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    Is it still mooching when the owner has made an attempt to protect it, by having a password? – Barmar Aug 27 at 16:53
  • @Barmar: I think people's opinions will differ, but rather than it being a disagreement over the meaning of the word or the right word to use, it's a disagreement over the kind/severity of offense that is. My view, from a security professional standpoint, is that wifi passwords are not an [effective] access control mechanism, rather a deterrent against mooching. This view is definitely more compelling when the password is widely known/shared to begin with (e.g. given out to patrons/customers or friends). It's less clear if the user resorted to brute-forcing or setting up MITM APs to get it. – R.. Aug 27 at 17:10
  • I was going to say that it's not really mooching if they give out the password, but if the wifi is supposed to be for patrons only, you're technically mooching if you use it without actually buying anything. – Barmar Aug 27 at 17:16
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    mooching only means that in US English. In British English it refers to a kind of apathetic state. So I would dispute the claim that this is the "best English word" – Martin Smith Aug 28 at 7:39
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    @MartinSmith: Thanks for the info. I incorporated that into my answer. – R.. Aug 28 at 17:32
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One could say such people are free riders, a noun derived from free ride:

1 : a benefit obtained at another's expense or without the usual cost or effort

(source: Merriam Webster)

and in the same spirit (thanks @PeterJennings), freeloaders, derived from the verb freeload

: to impose upon another's generosity or hospitality without sharing in the cost or responsibility involved

(source: Merriam Webster)

which nicely 'rhymes' with upload & download, which is what you do when using the network.

These are certainly not limited to using WiFi, as @Lambie suggests.

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    Another possibility from Merriam Webster is "freeload : to impose upon another's generosity or hospitality without sharing in the cost or responsibility involved." Again, not confined to WiFi, but pleasingly appropriate! – Peter Jennings Aug 26 at 16:57
  • Thanks for suggesting that. It crossed my mind too but I somehow didn't bother looking it up. – Glorfindel Aug 26 at 17:10
  • Freeloading has a negative connotation— it emphasizes the cost. Walking into a hotel lobby’s guest WiFi and using it for 30 seconds before leaving might not be “freeloading”. – whiskeychief Aug 26 at 17:27
  • The term has no relationship to Wi-Fi or Internet services, however. One could just as well suggest that taking a baby without permission is called stealing. And freeloading requires consent or an initial invitation or gift, which is obviously not at all what the OP asks about. – Jim Reynolds Aug 26 at 17:33
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    @whiskeychief The question is specifically asking about using the service without the owner's permission, in which a word with a negative connotation is entirely appropriate. – chrylis -on strike- Aug 27 at 5:36
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Honestly the word I have heard used for this is just "stealing". This is fairly common in everyday use, because "stealing" is a quite general term for taking something without authorization.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    In mob-speak, it is "leveraging". – mckenzm Aug 28 at 0:14
  • Yep... "I'm stealing my neighbour's WiFi". "Someone's stealing my WiFi"... – Artelius Aug 28 at 9:45
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TL;DR

It's helpful to think about the way you're framing this. If you're viewing bandwidth or the Wi-Fi network as personal property, then the matching term or phrase should have a negative connotation that carries a sense of theft or unauthorized use.

Some Common Terms

They might be “stealing bandwidth,” which is a limited resource on Wi-Fi networks. They may also be “trespassing” (in several senses of the word, and especially in the sense of unlawful transit of property).

Taking possession of another’s property (in this case, bandwidth) is “squatting.” The person squatting on the network is a “squatter.”

If it wasn’t an open network, then someone had to “hack” it or “crack” it to gain access. The former term is more common in colloquial speech, but the latter more strongly connotes “breaking” (or "breaking into") the system.

If it was an open network, and no money exchanged hands, then the unpaid use of the Wi-Fi would be “freeloading.” The one freeloading would therefore be a “freeloader.”

It's definitely worth pointing out the terms above are closely related, but aren't identical. For example, "trespassing" and "stealing" are both crimes, but stealing carries a stronger sense of criminal intent.

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    When the person has to crack/hack it's also called: Wardriving -> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wardriving – acidjunk Aug 27 at 10:35
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    As a legal sense in the UK its under the legal terms of "Computer Misuse" - it may also be covered by "Fraud", i.e. if you present yourself as a legitimate user to the system, you are fraudulently presenting credentials. one of the definitions of Computer Misuse in the UK, is unauthorised access or attempting unauthorised access. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/18/crossheading/… – Jmons Aug 27 at 10:42
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    @acidjunk Wardriving is the process of searching for connections to use, not the use of them after they've been discovered. – Barmar Aug 27 at 16:54
  • “hack” it or “crack" it or "spoof" it. - The way in which, or if, the password was compromised will determine. - I'd like to point out that this is two different questions. The first doesn't have an answer because that's y'all's fault. The word for that is comeuppance. – Mazura Aug 28 at 3:25
  • @Barmar ...typically by driving around in a personal vehicle looking for open ones. Some people (such as myself actually) leave their wifi purposely open, in case someone needs one in an emergency. My daughter in High School had a friend who would make use of it on nights when his family was being abusive. – T.E.D. Aug 29 at 14:04
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I'm going to suggest the obvious: thief.

It clearly indicates the "without consent" part of the question.

Or perhaps the more specific term: bandwidth thief.

If a company is paying for Internet access by the megabyte then the person using it without permissions is certainly stealing. If the company pays a flat fee for a limited amount of bandwidth then the unapproved person is still stealing - if they use 200 MB of a company's 2GB plan, that is 200 MB the company is now deprived of using.

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    Thieving/stealing implies that something is taken from someone. Depriving the original owner of having a thing. This isn't the best word to describe what's happening where someone is using someone else's WiFi and not significantly impacting the owner from also using it. – Brad Aug 27 at 5:27
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    @Brad: Software piracy has many cases where the copyright holder isn't significantly impacted, yet we still use the word "piracy" to describe the act. If someone stole the napkin on my desk, I wouldn't be significantly impacted, but it's still considered theft if I didn't give them permission. In both cases, the issue is whether it's moral and/or legal, not on whether the owner should really care. – MichaelS Aug 27 at 6:05
  • @MichaelS yes and no. Internet connectivity isn't an object or a non-renewable resource. Nor in most cases is it something that you pay for in a quantized way. The person who is paying for the access is still getting the access that they're paying for. If the "bandwidth thief" is actually running them into bandwidth limitations or data caps that's a different situation but most commonly this would be a "no impact" vs "low impact" thing. – John Aug 27 at 18:41
  • As an example, my cable provider (comcast) decided some time ago that they should make the router I was borrowing from them transmit a 2nd ssid that they provided access to for any other comcast customer. They turned this "feature" on without notification or explicit consent. When I called them about it the assured me that there would be zero impact to my network performance. They're still doing this so presumably that argument has some legs (even if it's not 100% true in all circumstances). – John Aug 27 at 18:42
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    If they use $1000 worth of traffic and I am invoiced for it, then yes, something is being taken from me. – mckenzm Aug 28 at 0:16

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