How safe will it be to browse the web from public Wi-Fi? Photo: Louise Kennerley
Internet security experts have welcomed the launch of Australia’s largest free public Wi-Fi system in Canberra but have voiced concerns regarding data security and the potential for phishing.
The $3.1 million network will enable Canberrans to download 100 megabytes of data a day via 745 access points across Canberra, with the first point to be turned on at Garema Place in October.
Senior Lecturer at RMIT’s computer engineering department Dr Mark Gregory said the network would be no more dangerous than other public access networks, although data security, phishing and malware remain legitimate concerns.
“If people don’t ensure their devices are set up correctly when they access the network then it’s not difficult for other people to look at the information on their device or install malware,” he said.
“Ultimately a free public Wi-Fi network like this one is a radio frequency environment and people can sit and gather all the traffic that passes through that network."
Mr Gregory said people who use their smartphones on public networks are often most at risk.
“People have got to make sure that their smartphones are equipped with anti-virus and anti-malware software when using public networks as not all phones come with this software installed,” he said.
He said there are many measures service provider iiNet can do to ensure the security of the network for Canberrans.
“From the provider's point of view, they can lock down their system as much as possible to prevent people getting into the network and ensuring the provision of encrypted protocols such as https,” he said.
University of Canberra’s Centre for Internet Security director Alastair MacGibbon said the scheme could be exposed to the usual risks of free public networks, but security would ultimately be determined by the vigilance of providers.
“The ACT Government will have certain requirements as to how the free service is to be administered by iiNet which should make the network no different to being on the net at home or anywhere else,” he said.
“iiNet are clearly very experienced in running public networks and it may even be more secure than many of the other public networks in the city.”
Both Mr MacGibbon and Mr Gregory welcomed the free network as a public service that will revolutionise the way people interact with each other and engage with key services.
But Mr Gregory said we shouldn’t be so naive to believe there such a thing as a completely free Wi-Fi network.
“While we’re not paying directly to use the network we’ll be paying indirectly because our information and activity will be collected for targeted marketing purposes, based on knowledge of what we do and want,” he said.