Starbuck’s Free Wi-Fi Opens the Door for Hackers and Crackers

By Mikal E. Belicove|For|October 7, 2010

When Starbucks said it would be offering free Wi-Fi in all of its U.S. stores by the end of June, the buzz among the entrepreneurial set was enthusiastic.

Entrepreneurs and those working on startup businesses love to work remotely — especially in hip environments like the ones found within a Starbucks’ cozy/homey atmosphere. For many, the news of free Wi-Fi was akin to a complimentary offering of Reduced-Fat Very Berry Coffee Cake.

But what wasn’t discussed — at least not among the entrepreneurs and startups I work with — is that coffee shops and public Wi-Fi spots are breeding grounds for hackers and crackers to steal business-related information from web surfers. And no matter how tech-savvy you might think you are, free Wi-Fi has opened a gateway for these PC (and Mac) predators. (Oh, and for those who don’t know the difference, hackers break into computers simply for the joy of doing so — without causing harm — while crackers have malicious intent.)

Hackers and crackers are everywhere, looking for easy marks. Believe me when I say they’re just as likely to hang out at your favorite Starbucks as you are, Ms. Entrepreneur. They could be sitting with a latte and a laptop on the sofa right next to you. And don’t look for Boris- and Natasha-style cartoon characters here. (“Fearless Leader say we steal computer access from moose and squirrel!“) They are far more subtle than that.

So for an entrepreneur who considers Starbucks — or any other coffee shop for that matter — his home office, what options are available to ensure the privacy and security of his or her data when accessing the internet on a free Wi-Fi connection?

One of the best ways is to use a Virtual Private Network to connect to the net. Until very recently, VPN was the stuff of corporations and large businesses. Small businesses, startups and independent entrepreneurs avoided VPN because it’s highly technical to set up and administer.

Today, anyone can access the internet from a PC or Mac using what I call a “consumer grade” VPN. But don’t let “consumer grade” fool you — this is the same exact thing large corporations use. Think of a VPN as a secure tunnel that you use to connect to the internet — a tunnel that’s impervious to a hacker or cracker’s attempt to see what you’re doing and gain access to your data.

One provider of affordable and turnkey VPN is…

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