Wifi security at coffee shop

Public Wi-Fi Security at Coffee Shops – Why Millennials and Gen Y are More Vulnerable?

A recent survey suggests that nearly 70% of the hacking incidents occur when you connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks at coffee shops, restaurants, airports, and other public places. What do you think happens when your craving for coffee and addiction for Wi-Fi hits at the same time?

You find yourself making your way into a coffee shop, ordering your favorite coffee and enjoying every sip of it while using free Wi-Fi.

Well, isn’t that the case for all the morning coffee lovers?

The question is, “what do we actually browse on the Internet when we connect to a public Wi-Fi?”

Norton surveyed over 15,000 mobile phone users to learn their behavior when they use public Wi-Fi.

The survey reveals that around 36% of millennials and Gen Y claim to seek strong Wi-Fi signals so that they can browse their social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

The same survey reports that 55% of Wi-Fi users would willingly exchange information, share data or do anything to avail a free Wi-Fi with strong signals.

If you are among those Wi-Fi lovers, there’s bad news for you… your online privacy and security are at risk, as long as you rely on the weak Wi-Fi security protocols at coffee shops.

This means that you could be exposed to various threats such as identity theft which has over 15 million cases each year.

Here’s How You Can Lose Your Data While Sipping Your Coffee

Free or public Wi-Fi’s are hotspots for hackers and data snoopers who want to steal your private data or financial information. Needless to say, it is pretty easy for hackers to do that nowadays.

Read on, and you will be surprised to know the different ways hackers can compromise your device or your private information.

Plus, you will also learn why you shouldn’t rely on Wi-Fi security at coffee shops as they come with certain risks.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack

As the name suggests, it is a type of attack where the attacker intercepts a transmission between two parties. The attacker can record the data for later viewing and even change or modify it.

MITM attacks are usually caused by exploiting vulnerabilities, through malware or malicious tools like “hotspot honeypot.”

Man-in-the-Middle (aka MITM) attack is perhaps the most common type of Wi-Fi attack. In fact, a security survey of 500 CIOs and IT decision makers from 5 countries, conducted by iPass on Mobile Security, reveals that Man-in-the-Middle poses the greatest threat to mobile security than others.

mitm attack stat

Image Credit: iPass.com

Network Scanners

Network scanners are tools of the devil. Unfortunately, the Internet is brimming with network scanning tools that are built to compromise networks or devices.

Basically, a network scanner can compromise systems through the following steps:

  • Map the network by finding all the devices that are connected to it
  • Retrieve details regarding the operating system and find vulnerabilities like open ports
  • Using the open ports, the hacker would try to directly connect to the device through any means necessary such as password cracking

Now, imagine what a hacker can do by easily sneaking past your password-protected device!

WEP/WPA Attacks

WEP and WPA are becoming a thing of the past. Experts say that the age-old encryption protocols are completely vulnerable. Since they are vulnerable to attacks, hackers wouldn’t need to go to the extra mile to compromise devices using such protocols.

Here’s what a security researcher, Brent Saner, has to say about, “How safe is Wi-Fi at Starbucks? Is SafeWeb Good?

“It doesn’t matter if Starbucks is on WPA, WPA2, WEP (which is incredibly easy to break. give me 1-4 hours or less and close enough distance to a wifi antenna, I’ll break your WPA2… but give me 15 minutes and I’ll break your WEP. If you have WPS enabled? 5 minutes – no matter if you use WPA/WPA2 or WEP)…

All that does not matter if it’s for a Starbucks AP. It might as well be open. Hotspots are *intended* to be accessed by the public.”

You will come across questions like “If I stream at a coffee shop can my phone be hacked?” or “How can your laptop be hacked at a coffee shop?” all over the Internet.

Questions like these have one common answer and that is: Yes. With cyberattacks evolving each day, you can definitely expect your phone or laptop hacked.

Hotspot Spoofing

The same report, Mobile Security Report 2017, by iPass reports that hotspot spoofing is the third-most greatest threat (after lack of encryption) when it comes to mobile security.

Wi-Fi lovers wouldn’t think twice what network they are connecting to and whether the network is safe or not.

Hackers are well aware of the psychology of Wi-Fi users and they exploit it by creating spoofed hotspots.

These hotspots may have the label of the coffee shop, but in reality they are fake networks created by hackers.

When you join a fake or malicious hotspot, the attacker can trick you into using your credentials on fake websites. For instance, when you try to purchase something online using your credit card, the hacker might create a fake website and retrieve your credit card number.

With such details in wrong hands, you might fall victim to threats like identity theft. Here’s what might happen if you fall victim to identity theft:

  • The cybercriminal can use your social security number to get a job
  • Take loans on your name
  • Rent apartments
  • In fact, a smart criminal may even use your tax return details to get tax refunds

Why Are Coffee Shops the Most Targeted Venues?

Coffee shops are the most popular spots for people to sit and relax, drink coffee or eat their preferred food items. Perhaps, their popularity is what makes them dangerous when it comes to mobile security.

And, this is not just any claim! The same has been proven through the survey conducted by iPass.

According to the iPass report, coffee shops are the most dangerous Wi-Fi venues among other places like Airport, hotels, etc.

coffee shop dangerous venue

Image Credit: iPass.com

When you rely too much on the Wi-Fi security at coffee shops, you fall into the traps that hackers have laid out for you. Here are some of the many things that hackers can learn about you when you become their prey:

  • All the historical data from your device
  • The name of all the places you last visited
  • About your personality or traits through the social apps you use
  • The documents you send or upload to cloud

Here’s How Not to Get Hacked at Starbucks or Any Other Coffee Spots

Since you can’t count on the Wi-Fi security at coffee shops, here are some security measures you can take to protect your data.

  • First of all, refrain from accessing sensitive information on a public Wi-Fi. But if the necessity arises, make sure you use only those websites that use HTTPS.
  • Turn-off automatic Wi-Fi connection so your device doesn’t join any network without your permission
  • Get a VPN for WiFi to secure your data. A VPN will encrypt all your data making it incomprehensible for attackers.
  • Turn off automatic file sharing on your laptop
  • Don’t join the Wi-Fi without ensuring that it is owned by the coffee shop

Final Words

Coffee shops may be considered as dangerous venues when it comes to your online security. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be!

Try out the tips mentioned above and keep your data safe the next time you connect to a Wi-Fi at a coffee shop.

An information security analyst in the making, a father of an adorable kid and a technology writer (Contributor). He can be found lurking around top network security blogs, looking for scoops on information security and privacy trends.

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