Walk by any Starbucks within 100 miles of your house and chances are that you’ll see several people sitting at a table, drinking coffee and enjoying the free Wi-Fi.
Starbucks and free Wi-Fi have become synonymous with one another over the past few years — one unable to exists without the other — but the next time you log on to a public coffee shop hotspot, you might want to consider the risks you’re taking.
Someone on Quora posed the following question: “How safe is WiFi at Starbucks?” Of course, there’s nothing special about the Wi-Fi at Starbucks specifically, but it’s a place where nearly everyone has connected at some point.
Here’s what network engineer Brent Saner has to say about it:
“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.”
He then goes into great detail about exact how he would break into the network and what he might be able to access on your device if he’s successful.
One the other hand, computer security engineer David Seidman explains that the chances of being targeted on a random hotspot at a random hotspot is unlikely:
“However, the truth is that most users will never be targeted because such an operation is risky and, more importantly, time consuming for the attacker, because the attacker needs to be physically present. Most attackers prefer to operate remotely so they can hit more victims faster. If you are being individually targeted by an intelligence agency, then you might want to worry – but this is the least of your concerns.”
So is Starbucks’ Wi-Fi safe to use? Not entirely, but you shouldn’t let that keep you from logging on and getting some work done the next time you visit.