Telstra says its shared Wi-Fi network will be secure

Shared connections should be secure with correct settings, says privacy expert

Telstra CEO David Thodey asserts that public Wi-Fi network will be secure.

Telstra CEO David Thodey asserts that public Wi-Fi network will be secure.

Telstra has stressed that customers should have no security concerns about sharing their broadband connection with other users over Wi-Fi or – conversely – accessing another customer’s shared connections as a hotspot.

The sharing of home and business broadband connections is a key part of a national public Wi-Fi network announced today by Australia’s biggest telco. Telstra home and enterprise broadband users will be able to access 2 million Wi-Fi hotspots around Australia in five years if they agree to share their own connection, according to the plan.

“Security is a really important aspect,” Telstra CEO David Thodey said today.

“We want to make sure you’ve got the bandwidth and your connection is protected, and then we’re making sure that the public access side has the normal Wi-Fi security and ... authentication.”

The modem will be secure and locked down, and the public configuration for hotspots will be the same as existing public hotspots, said Mike Wright, Telstra group managing director of networks.

Telstra customers who opt in to sharing their connection should be able to do so securely if the right settings are ticked, according to Malcolm Crompton, managing partner of consultancy Information Integrity Solutions.

“If people apply the maximum security (MAC address filtering, strong passwords etc.), the risk shouldn’t be too great,” said Crompton, a former Australian privacy commissioner.

“So the question is to what lengths should individuals go and to what lengths will they go in practice (potentially two different things),” he said.

“And the gap between the two, in turn, is likely to depend on the defaults that Telstra puts in place when individuals join or install.”

Telstra plans to make it completely “opt in” for customers to share their connections with other users. Crompton said this is essential from a privacy perspective and in fact probably unavoidable.

“Even if [Telstra] tried, there are likely lots of ways to frustrate any ‘opt out’ or ‘compel’ model,” including by changing Wi-Fi settings or setting up MAC address filters, he said.

“But more than that, I think we are reaching the stage in public awareness of privacy online where compulsion would be commercially unacceptable: the backlash too strong.”

US cable company Comcast attracted some controversy in the US when it turned on Wi-Fi sharing by default and required users to opt out.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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