Three Metro Vancouver buses began offering free WiFi provided by Telus to its customers early this month, with a planned expansion to more buses and bus lines in the near future. The buses with WiFi access had signs with little flying piglets, a reference to the popular saying “when pigs fly,” presumably answering the question of when transit users would get WiFi access. The pilot will last for six months.
Earlier this year, Montreal teamed up with WiFi provider Distributel to provide free WiFi on one bus per bus line. And Toronto’s GO Transit initiative is in the process of adding free WiFi to its subway stations, and is looking to add WiFi to train lines in a few years.
No doubt that many of Canada’s transit users welcome the free WiFi during their morning and evening commutes. But we must ask if commuters really understand the risks inherent to all public WiFi networks. Sure, we love being able to access the Internet during our bus and subway rides, but because the networks are open, anyone else on the network could easily see everything we do online.
Most of us are terrible at protecting ourselves when we log in to a public WiFi network. According to a recent survey by Kaspersky Labs, 60% do not take appropriate precautions when accessing public WiFi.
Canada’s Recent History with Public WiFi
You would think that Canadians would be a little wary of using public WiFi. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), a Canadian spy agency, apparently has been using airport WiFi networks to track travelers.
When travelers use their mobile phones or laptops to login to these public WiFi networks in Canadian airports, the CSEC can access user metadata and track travelers even after they left the airport, and perhaps as long as a week or more. They can even track traveler’s whereabouts before they arrived at the airport.
All of this was blatantly illegal under Canadian law, as the CSEC cannot target Canadians or anyone in Canada without a warrant. But this hasn’t stopped the CSEC from going ahead with their plans.
So if you plan on using any of the public WiFi hotspots in Canada, whether on their transit system or not, play it safe by making sure that you are using a VPN like PRIVATE WiFi. Because you can never be sure who might be tracking you.