Free wireless comes with a price

Students cautioned to protect information over open network

Ockham Communications president Shawn Gee
Ockham Communications president Shawn Gee

Users of the Ghetto’s new open wireless network should exercise caution when navigating non-secure websites said Queen’s ITS Information Systems Security Manager, George Farah. The free network, called Mi Wifi, was created in July by Ockham Communications, a Kingston-based Internet provider composed of several Queen’s graduates. It covers the area bordered by University Avenue and Earl, Princess and Division streets.

“All the information in an open network is transferred by antennas,” he said. “There are many risks as far as how to use this network.”

These risks include using email and online internet banking.

Farah said that the only secure way to send e-mail using an open wireless internet network is to send information between two parties using email encryption software.

“Encrypted e-mail means that you are using an encryption to scramble all information from the e-mail that you are sending from your computer,” he said. “The only person who can see that information is the recipient on the other end when they descramble it when they open the e-mail.”

Queen’s webmail is equipped with encryption software, but e-mail systems Hotmail and Gmail don’t guarantee e-mail encryption.

Farah said students using the Mi WiFi service should always use secure websites when doing online banking or disclosing personal information.

“Once you have entered your user name and password that can be submitted securely using online banking. The issue is before that happens on your computer when you are connected by an open wireless network. What happens is that someone can hack into your computer while you are doing your online banking they can see exactly what you are doing.”

Farah said Queen’s offers its own wireless Internet on campus using a secure wireless protocol called WPA2. When logging on to WPA2, students must enter their Queen’s NetID and password for verification.

“It’s one of the latest encryption protocols that are used to encrypt wireless communication. In addition we have authentication by a secure wireless certificate,” he said. “We make sure that you’re a Queen’s student before you use it.” Ockham Communications President Shawn Gee, MBA ’07, said although Mi Wifi is an open wireless network with a secure login, anything on a non-secure website can still be made available to the public.

Gee said by not requiring a Wifi Protected Access (WPA) password to access the network, anyone with wireless capability within network range can use the service.

“It’s the same thing with Bell and Cogeco’s internet services, unless you’re given a secure WPA login password there’s no guarantee that your information won’t be seen by others,” he said. “The fact is that we have an open network. The best thing I can do is educate our users … We’re no different than any other network. You just have to be careful.”

Gee admitted that, due to a lack of resources, his company can’t initiate an awareness campaign on its own.

“Because we are a small company and we only have one permanent staff member it would be a big step. I met with Sean Reynolds with IT Services and he seems very keen on supporting the project.”

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