You’ve just ordered your first latte of the morning, you’ve sat down in your favorite corner, and now you’re ready to start a hearty session of browsing the web. Maybe you’ll login to Facebook or Twitter first, but then you see an ad for a sale on that new pair of hiking boots you’ve been after, and it’s time to hit Amazon.
Stop right there! Do you know where that WiFi has been? Any public WiFi hotspots are a cesspool of potential hacker activity, and nowhere is this more apparent than at coffee shops. Coffee shops provide a unique opportunity for hackers, because unlike many other locations which offer free WiFi, the local cafe is the one spot where you can expect people to be staying on the hotspot for a long time, sometimes even a whole day if the person in question is involved in getting their next screenplay finished before they leave.
But what’s the real problem with public WiFi, and why is it a threat to you? Read on in our guide to the best VPN for coffee shops to find out everything you need to know!
Latte With a Side of Identity Theft
Like any self-respecting businessperson, hackers who are in the game professionally usually like to go where the money is. Sure, there are your high traffic spots like Starbucks and Disneyland [EDIT: Backlinks] which can offer the most bang for the hacker’s buck from a purely number-backed standpoint, but a small, local coffee shop offers up just as many enticing opportunities for a hack.
The main difference between a chain like Starbucks and your local spot (other than the price) is that unlike Starbucks, smaller coffee shops usually have a reliable string of regulars who come in and sign onto the WiFi with no questions at all.
Maybe they know the owner or have just been going there for years, but either way that implicit unspoken level of trust the customer has with the cafe is the easiest thing in the world to exploit for a trained hacker. All it takes is one wrong login to the coffee shop’s WiFi for your, and everyone else’s information to become public in the right hands.
Another more vulnerable area of concern for local shops over chains is that unlike those chains, smaller coffee shops often resort to using plain old consumer-grade wireless routers, rather than the IT-supported business-level hotspots you might find at a Starbucks.
This means that even a simple hack made for the average home router could, in theory, take the whole coffee shop network down and leave it as open season for any hackers who happen to be passing by at that particular moment.
Last there’s the issue of trust. If you’ve been frequenting a certain coffee shop for a number of months or even years, you’re going to trust their WiFi by default because when has it ever done you wrong before? This means that you might potentially engage in riskier browsing activities than usual on their public WiFi (shopping, taking care of bills with online banking, etc), without thinking about it twice. Hackers like to use this trust against you, and will wait for the day when you’re sending your friend some money through an app to steal your login details and begin funneling money out of your account before you’ve even finished your scone.
But How Do They Do It?
Hackers like to use a variety of methods to hack public WiFi hotspots, all of which carry their own specific risks.
The first is to use what’s known as “social engineering” to trick unsuspecting users into signing onto a fake WiFi hotspot they’ve set up with a name that’s nearly identical to the one you normally find at your shop. This could be something as simple as changing “Jakes-Coffee-WiFi” to “JakesCoffee-WiFi”, and users will begin flooding in by the dozen in order to get online.
Once logged into the fake hotspot, hackers are able to monitor any traffic that passes through their network, including sensitive identifying information like your phone number and home address, all the way up to your credit card info and social security number if you’re not careful.
The other is through a tool that’s known as a “packet sniffer”. Packet sniffers are software devices which can seek out a WiFi hotspot and then begin tracking all the traffic which travels through it (much like a fake hotspot).
The program will automatically begin scanning any traffic it can “sniff” out for those same bits of information, and keep them logged for the hacker whenever they want to use them. Of the two more common public WiFi hacks, packet sniffing is generally the more popular option in hacker circles who really know what they’re doing.
How Can VPN.com Help?
With a VPN recommended by VPN.com, you can easily and cheaply protect yourself from both these tactics with the push of a single button. A VPN is the perfect way to deflect hackers who might try to steal your information while you’re browsing at the coffee shop, because unlike some other firewalls or antivirus programs which can only protect the data that’s stored on your physical device, a VPN encrypts ALL the information sent and received by your device while the service is switched on.
This means if your VPN is set to auto-run each time you open your laptop, no matter what fake hacker-supported WiFi hotspots are trying to steal your financial information, all they’ll end up seeing is a garbled mess of text that’s defended by a 256-bit AES level of encryption.
Our VPN essentially makes it impossible for anyone - hacker or otherwise - to snoop on your data while it’s in transit. So, the next time you head on down to your favorite local coffee spot, remember to always run your VPN recommended by VPN.com and you’ll never have to worry about the threat of identity theft again.