12 percent of respondents to an Accenture survey have flouted the law and logged on to someone else's unsecured Wi-Fi connection.
Logging on to open Wi-Fi signals is most popular with 18- to 34-year-olds, Accenture said, with nearly a third of them admitting to 'stealing' wireless bandwidth. Accenture's survey was based on telephone interviews with 800 UK and US residents.
The practice is apparently more common in the US, where one in seven have piggybacked on free Wi-Fi networks, than in the UK, where Accenture found that it was attempted by one in 11.
In some parts of the world, Wi-Fi piggybacking is considered to be a form of criminal hacking. In August 2007, police arrested a 39-year-old man for using his laptop to connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi connection as he sat on a garden wall in the London suburb of Chiswick. And in a case that was widely publicised in the US, Sam Peterson of Sparta, Michigan, was charged after using a cafe's wireless connection to check his email.
The Accenture study found that computer users are still engaging in some unsafe computing practices. Nearly half of all respondents said that they used the same password for all of their online accounts, and only a quarter of them have ever encrypted files on their computers.
Most computer users are sensitive to reports of identity theft, the study found, with about 25 percent of respondents saying that they would stop shopping at a retailer that had suffered a security breach. One-third said that they would continue to shop at the store, but would pay in cash rather than using credit or debit cards.
One other finding: people in the US are more likely to keep their security software up-to-date than their UK counterparts. One in seven UK households never update security software. In the US, that ratio is one in 20.