THOUSANDS of Queensland homes and businesses are vulnerable to computer hackers and identity thieves because their wireless networks are unsecured.
An unsecured wireless network has minimal or no security settings enabled, and no password, or the user has not changed the default password on their wireless router, enabling those within range to easily tap in.
Police estimate an "amazing" 50 per cent of wireless internet connections are unsecured after conducting a "wardriving" campaign through regional centres.
Detective Superintendent Brian Hay said wardriving involved driving around with an in-car computer looking for unprotected Wi-Fi networks.
"You wouldn't go out to work each day and leave the front door unlocked but with an unsecured wireless network that's essentially what you're doing," Supt Hay said.
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He said unsecured wireless connections enabled hackers to access personal information and even download and store illegal material.
"We know that the crooks are out there, scanning the environment and identifying these vulnerable networks, plotting them and then selling the information," Supt Hay said. "Who knows to what extent it is being exploited."
Internet search engine Google has been accused of collecting private data from homes with unsecured networks, using its Street View photo-mapping car.
The company has admitted collecting data this way – which it has offered to destroy.
Supt Hay said police were looking at leaving pamphlets in the letterboxes of those homes and businesses with unsecured Wi-Fi to alert them to the problem and advise them how to address it.
But Queensland University of Technology computer expert Bill Caelli said manufacturers and suppliers should be targeted rather than the "end user".
"I'd prefer to see the police walking into Harvey Norman or any other retailer and saying 'okay, the moment that wireless network leaves the door, it's configured for automatic security'," Prof Caelli said.
Brisbane resident Jacinta Dyer, 26, admitted she did not have a password for her wireless network – because she was not aware of any risks.
"I haven't really thought about the need for security," she said.
She said she kept her network unprotected so her housemates could share the connection.