LinkNWK kiosk (Intersection)

NYC gets new protections for public Wi-Fi

Cities that want to offer public Wi-Fi are understandably concerned about security.  

Consumer devices automatically log onto networks they’re familiar with, so a bad actor can set up a network with the same name as a city's network and compromise users who sign on. Intersection, the company behind LinkNYC and LinkNWK public Wi-Fi kiosks in New York City and Newark, N.J., is now offering an app to secure connections on its networks.

The Link Wi-Fi App will provide an encrypted connection between the device and the network and will ensure that devices don’t connect to other “evil twin” networks, which would allow bad actors to steal and view user information, Stacey Levine, the VP of communications at Intersection, told GCN.

“The only sure-fire way to avoid these evil-twin networks is to use a secure method of network access such as an app and that’s why we’ve developed this,” she said of the encrypted app.

“The security of public Wi-Fi networks is increasingly an area of focus for cities who want to protect their residents and visitors from hackers, imposter networks and other threats that can compromise or steal user data, often without users even realizing it,” Intersection President Jen Hensley said. “Unlike many public wifi networks, the LinkNWK network will ensure a secure, encrypted connection for all Apple and Android phones through the Link Wi-Fi app.”

LinkNWK will be the first city to have the app when it activates its 45 kiosks later this fall, Levine said.

LinkNYC has both a public and private network. LinkNYC Private requires downloading a Hotspot 2.0 profile that enables encryption and automatically connects users from one hotspot to the next without requiring them to log in to each new network. It also recently signed a deal with Quad9 to secure its guest and free public Wi-Fi networks by blocking access to known malicious sites.

Link Wi-Fi App will instead be downloaded like any standard smartphone app, a process users are more familiar with, Levine said, and it will be available for iOS and Android users.

The app will automatically connect a device to the LinkNWK network any time it is within range. It will also provide a map of nearby active kiosks. Future updates could provide the ability to access information similar to what people can see on the kiosks themselves -- including events, city information and transit updates.

This app will also give Intersection data for monitoring internet connectivity. Analysts will be able to see when people have trouble connecting and if the problem is due to a specific operating system or device, which will help the service to troubleshoot, Levine said.

LinkNWK taps into Newark's fiber network for internet connectivity. For LinkNYC, Intersection has invested in a  purpose-built fiber optic network for gigabit connectivity.

The company also is in talks with the other cities with Link kiosks about rolling out this app to those locations, Levine said.

“Fundamentally,” she said, “connectivity is kind of like the basis of smart city technology. Things need to be connected, people need access to communication, so we think this is a foundational piece of their smart city efforts.”

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