Boston’s MBTA to Get Free WiFi, But What About Security?


Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) announced a $5.6 million agreement with inMOTION Wireless Inc. to upgrade free WiFi service on its commuter rail lines. This is largely in response to complaints from riders about slow and uneven WiFi service. Work on the new WiFi network will begin this fall and be completed early next year for all major stations and 14 commuter lines.

inMOTION’s WiFi service will offer limited Internet browsing while allowing commuters to send and receive emails and access live local television broadcasts. For unlimited browsing and out-of-network broadcasts, commuters can pay $15 a month. Boston’s MBTA commuter line is inMOTION’s first large-scale WiFi project.

No Mention of Security

No doubt most people like getting free WiFi so they can entertain themselves or work while commuting.

What’s less clear is whether these commuters truly understand the security risks inherent to public WiFi networks. When you log into public WiFi networks, you are completely unprotected unless you are using a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi to encrypt your communications. Everything you do online can be viewed by anyone around you who has installed simple and free network sniffing software on their device.

People may assume that since they are paying for WiFi, that it must be secure. But paying for WiFi access doesn’t guarantee 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.

Don’t believe it? Here’s what the MTBA says on their website regarding WiFi security:

Q: Does Wi-Fi Commuter Rail Connect offer virus protection and security?
A: No, we do not. It is the customer’s responsibility to prepare a laptop or wireless internet device for secure internet usage. The MBTA is not responsible for any damages or security breaches.

Having Internet access is a good thing, but unless public WiFi providers are taking steps to make sure that users understand the risks inherent to public WiFi, commuters in Boston may end up regretting that they ever logged on.

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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.

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