Passengers wait for Metro Rail subway trains during rush hour June 3, 2008 in Los Angeles. LA County and the city of Los Angeles recently started offering a free mobile security app to help citizens who use public Wi-Fi. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and city of Los Angeles earlier this week launched “LA Secure,” a free mobile security application for Apple iOS and Android platforms.

Officials said the app will help protect Metro riders and other county residents and visitors from growing cybersecurity threats on public Wi-Fi systems throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Today, all of LA Metro’s 2,300-plus transit buses operating in L.A. County offer free public Wi-Fi access to customers – and the system plans to expand Wi-Fi access in the years ahead.

Once someone downloads the application, it alerts them to threats in real-time and offers information on how to respond. If a passenger tries to connect to a rogue Wi-Fi network, LA Secure will alert them about the security risk. LA Secure also offers phishing protection that guards against malicious links and lets people check the safety and legitimacy of suspicious links before they click.

Public Wi-Fi networks are notorious for being inherently insecure, said John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at Netenrich. While introducing an app could help, Bambenek said the question remains how exactly this app maintains security for users and what independent security assessments are performed to insure that the apps are safe? “However, the city of Los Angeles thinking about protecting its citizens is a very positive development,” Bambenek said.  

Casey Ellis, founder and CTO at Bugcrowd, added that he really likes that Los Angeles County has positioned cyberspace as an extension of the physical realm when it comes to safety and security.

“Apart from completely agreeing with that point of view, using familiar cyber-physical interfaces such as Wi-Fi to illustrate this is a very clever teaching tool, and for this reason alone I think other counties would do well to consider following suit,” Ellis said. “While the normalization of TLS encryption (aka “the green padlock”) has greatly reduced the amount of sensitive information that can be easily sniffed on open Wi-Fi, a whole host of attacks are still possible over open or compromised Wi-Fi, and any tools that help the average user be more mindful of what they are connecting too is a useful one.”

Citizens can download the new LA Secure app on the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.