The Hidden Dangers of New York’s LinkNYC Hotspots

You may have heard about New York City’s new plan to turn old phone booths into public WiFi hotspots. This project, called LinkNYC, is being implemented in all five boroughs and may provide as many as 7500 free public WiFi hotspots across the city.

Each hotspot has a 10 foot tall monolith, and not only provides free Internet connectivity, but also USB ports for charging phones, as well as a touchscreen Android tablet for video calls, directions, emergency calls, and maps. Each location is capable of sending out a strong 400 foot WiFi signal that has a top speed of 300 Mbps.

Officially, the kiosks are still in beta mode, as the city anticipates some changes as the network is rolled out. But thanks to the fiber network, the speeds are much faster than most commercially available Internet networks.

A company called Intersection is the company responsible for administering and maintaining the Link project. Intersection is owned by Google. New York also got some help from a few other companies as well. Comark built the actual kiosks, and Control Group was involved in strategy.

LinkNYC is free for anyone to use and didn’t cost any taxpayer money. It is also expected to generate about $500 million over the next 12 years, thanks to the mini-billboards place on both sides of the kiosks.

Passpoint or Hotspot 2.0

LinkNYC uses a new technology known as Passpoint, which is also known as Hotspot 2.0. Passpoint lets any WiFi hotspot work like a cellphone tower, so your phone can automatically connect from one hotspot to the next without you having to log in to each new network.

When you first access a Passpoint network, you have to download a profile to your mobile device or laptop. This profile allows you to seamlessly log into Passpoint hotspots whenever you are in range.

Passpoint offers two really good features: not only does it allow you to cut back on cellular data, but it also comes equipped with WPA-2 encryption. For those of us who are used to completely open public WiFi hotpots, this built-in encryption is a big improvement.

Early Results: Fast Speeds, But Still Not Totally Secure

So far, people have been pretty excited about how fast these WiFi hotspots are. Some users are reporting that LinkNYC Internet speeds are much faster than their home network, although you do have to stay relatively close to the access point. When one of our own employees tested out a kiosk, he found that they were not quite as fast as reported, with 90 Mbps download speed, and 70 Mbps upload speed.

But even though these hotspots are equipped with WPA-2 encryption, security experts are warning that hackers may find breaking these networks irresistible since they are so high profile. They are recommending that everyone use a personal VPN whenever you log into LinkNYC network just to be totally safe.

So while LinkNYC kiosks are an exciting glimpse of our future, keep in mind that they are not completely safe, and that you should definitely protect yourself by using a VPN like Private WiFi on all of your devices.