Before You Get Too Excited About ‘Free’ WiFi At New York City Airports…

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Port Authority in New York announced that starting this fall, the airports under its jurisdiction (which include JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and Stewart) will begin to offer free WiFi service for passengers.

Of course “free” WiFi is conditional: users get 30 minutes of free WiFi, but then have to pay $4.95 for a one-hour subscription, $7.95 for a one-day subscription, or $9.95 for a one-month subscription.

The WiFi network is being sponsored by Boingo, a wireless network provider, who will pay almost $4 million to help Port Authority upgrade its current system.

But What About Online Security?

Most travelers want nothing more than a public WiFi network so they can pass often-tedious travel wait times.

But how many travelers truly understand the security risks that are inherent to public WiFi networks? When you log into public WiFi networks, there are usually Terms and Conditions that you have to agree to.

Have you ever actually read them? Below are the actual Terms and Conditions from Boingo:

“There are security, privacy and confidentiality risks inherent in wireless communications and technology and Boingo does not make any assurances or warranties relating to such risks. If you have concerns you should not use the Boingo software or service. We cannot guarantee that your use of the wireless services through Boingo, including the content or communications to or from you, will not be viewed by unauthorized third parties.”

Even the network provider admits that the network is unsafe! They’ve actually recommended using a VPN. Unless you are using a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi to encrypt your communications, anything you do online can be viewed by anyone around you who has installed simple and free network sniffing software on their device.

Also, because travelers are paying for the service, they may assume that security is part of the package. But just because you paid for WiFi access doesn’t mean that it’s safe. Most of the security in public WiFi networks is built in to the payment system to safeguard your credit card. Beyond that, there’s no encryption to stop anyone from eavesdropping on your communications. It’s incredibly easy to do.

We applaud Port Authority’s decision to offer public WiFi to travelers, but unless they are taking steps to make sure that users understand the risks inherent to public WiFi (and not just burying them in the Terms and Conditions), many travelers may find out the hard way that they got a lot more than they bargained for.

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.