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Telstra responds to Wi-Fi network security concerns

​Telstra has reassured customers about the security of a new Wi-Fi project that allows users to access and share their home broadband data cap via a network of public hotspots across Australia.

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Image by Manuel Iglesias, CC BY 2.0

The $100 million project, announced on May 20, 2014, will see Telstra working with local councils and state governments to construct roughly 8,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in public places. In addition, new router hardware will turn home Wi-Fi networks into hotspots for Telstra's customers to access when they're out and about, while still using up the data on their home broadband plans.

However, while the Wi-Fi network will expand the reach of customers' broadband access, questions have been raised about the security and safety of such a network and how user access is separated.

Telstra's group managing director of networks, Mike Wright, has since moved to clarify the details of the technology.

"In reality, what happens is the hotspot in effect gets split into two -- there is a hotspot that is used in the home by the customer, and that remains just as secure with the latest security protocol," he said.

"Once the service is activated, the home gateways will broadcast two signals (or SSIDs) -- one for the home user's broadband service and another for the Telstra Wi-Fi hotspot."

"The data traffic for each service is partitioned. The home user can't see or control the sites a hotspot user is visiting and similarly the hotspot user can't see any home user activity."

"[The home user is] absolutely isolated from the public access hotspot that somebody else might come and use. And of course, those individual [public] users are anchored on their home broadband plan anyway. So individuals should feel quite comfortable."

The announcement of the Wi-Fi project also raised concerns about illicit data usage -- specifically, Telstra customers using another customer's home connection as a hotspot to download illegal material, and whether this usage could be traced.

However, Wright said the network would be set up to ensure individual user security.

"Each hotspot user will be allocated a separate IP address and will be responsible for their data usage," he said.