The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) partnered with Los Angeles to launch a free mobile security app to protect people in L.A. County from cybersecurity threats on public Wi-Fi systems.

Generally, cyberattackers increasingly target mobile devices as they often do not have the same protections as desktops and laptop computers, Metro said. Recent Check Point research stated that 40% of all mobile devices are prone to cyberattacks, and found a 15% increase in banking Trojan activity, where users’ mobile banking credentials are at risk of being stolen. 

“Providing a safe and secure environment for Los Angeles County’s 10 million residents to live and work is becoming just as important online as it has always been offline,” said Metro Board Chair and L.A. County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “As L.A. County continues to expand public Wi-Fi access, including on its entire fleet of Metro buses, LA Secure offers an industry-leading technology to ensure all the activity they conduct on their mobile devices remains safe, private and secure.”

According to a local report, the app, part of a series of customer experience improvements, will provide protection against new and evolving threats, including phishing, on both iPhone and Android mobile devices. Once downloaded, the app alerts users of threats in real-time, offering information on how to proceed. If someone attempts to connect to a rogue Wi-Fi network, the user is notified of the security risk. 

“The biggest risk of public Wi-Fi is the inherent insecurity of such networks. While introducing an app could help, the question is how exactly this app does that and what independent security assessments were performed to ensure that the apps are safe. The City of Los Angeles thinking about protecting its citizens is a very positive development,” says John Bambenek, Principal Threat Hunter at Netenrich, a California-based digital IT and security operations company.

Casey Ellis, Founder and CTO at Bugcrowd, a California-based leader in crowdsourced cybersecurity, notes, “I really like the fact that Los Angeles County is positioning 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 adds, “I’m a big believer in solving end-user security by “making secure easy, and insecure obvious,” which seems to be the goal of this tool. While the normalization of things like TLS encryption (aka “the green padlock”) have greatly reduced the amount of sensitive information which can be easily sniffed on open Wi-Fi, but a whole host of attacks are still possible over open or compromised Wi-Fi, and any tools which help the average user be more mindful of what they are connecting too is a useful one.”