Thousands of internet users are at risk of becoming embroiled in child pornography trafficking because of insecure security settings on their wireless connections.

Simply by using a laptop yesterday, The Dominion Post revealed hundreds of internet “holes” that criminals can use to hide their identities.

Wireless connections enable people to access the Internet from any part of their home or business, but coverage can extend up to 60 metres beyond walls.

Police electronic crime national manager Maarten Kleintjes says thieves access victims’ wireless Internet every day. Most do so to gain free Internet use, but others have “more criminal” reasons. “They can sit in their car outside your house and download child porn. The person inside would be totally unaware.”

Customers with poor security can also be left counting the cost of having allocated bandwidth used up by cyber-crooks. One expert compared it to leaving a wallet full of cash on the ground.

The criminal act known as “wardriving” involves searching for wireless networks with a portable computer or Internet-capable cellphone while driving.

Mr Kleintjes said unauthorised access to a computer network was illegal. Those caught could be imprisoned for up to seven years under the Crimes Act.

If a criminal accessed child pornography on an insecure Internet connection, “they leave a big fat fingerprint on your router”. Innocent people could become embroiled in the investigation and get “a knock at the door” from police.

The electronic crime unit can usually track evidence back to the offender.

Those who help themselves by accessing someone else’s account are often unaware they are breaking the law, even if it is just to surf the Net. “It happens regularly, not always for malicious reasons. People leave it open free for everyone, it becomes an all-you-can-eat,” Mr Kleintjes said. “But if the back door of your house is open, it’s no excuse for someone to go in and help themselves.”

Inspire Net general manager Keith Linforth said people who had an insecure wireless connection might as well leave their wallet on the ground with cash in it.

“It’s the kind of mentality that people have about the Internet these days: they think they have found it for free, but it’s actually costing someone.”

Mr Kleintjes said businesses that offered free wireless “hot spots” also should be aware of malicious use.