How to Stay Private and Anonymous in Internet Cafes & Coffee Shops

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Every week, a new story about hacking makes headlines.  Hackers have broken into Target, Forbes, Kickstarter and Ashley Madison– just to name a few recent incidents.  And in the US, hacked email leaks are even affecting the 2016 presidential election.

It takes advanced skills and knowledge to hack a celebrity, company or politician.  But even rookie hackers can easily harass, threaten or steal from ordinary people by hacking WiFi hotspots.

If you often use WiFi to surf the web at coffee shops, read on to find out how stay anonymous and private while surfing the web in cafes and other public settings.

How do hackers steal info at coffee shops?

According to founder of the IT security firm TrustedSec David Kennedy, free public WiFi networks are incredibly risky. In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, he revealed that all a hacker needs to do to monitor an entire store’s WiFi activity is enter the vicinity with a simple pocket-sized machine.  Custom-built devices can quickly and automatically infiltrate an entire public WiFi network.

But you don’t need any special gear to carry out an attack in a small-sized coffee shop.  Less sophisticated exploits can be orchestrated using ordinary computers and free software programs.

The most popular hacking method among cybercriminals is via the classic “man in the middle” (MIM) attack.

To pull off a MIM hack, all the data thief has to do is set up an access point that seems to be legitimate.  Anyone who connects doesn’t know that they’ve fallen into a trap, because fake hotspots seem exactly like real ones.  Once the MIM victim’s traffic is flowing through the thief’s computer via the bogus access point, it’s all too easy to grab valuable info like credit card numbers, screenshots and login credentials.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about MIM attacks is that anyone can learn how to pull one off in about 15 minutes, just from watching a few YouTube videos.  No special skills are needed.  A 13 year old with basic level computing knowledge could pull it off.

The best way to protect yourself from hackers is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect to the web when you’re in public.

How does a VPN prevent hacking?

Once your computer tunnels into the VPN server, there’s no way anyone can penetrate the encrypted pathway connecting your machine and the websites you visit.  All that hackers  can see is gibberish, as long as you’ve got your VPN software on.

According to Software Analyst and PC Mag contributor Max Eddy, a VPN connection can protect you even if you accidentally connect to the web through a hacker’s fake WiFi hotspot.

All I ever do on WiFi networks is check my email.  Why should I use a VPN?

If the person running the spoofed hotspot you’re connected to is using a keylogger to record everything you type, you’ve just given away your email password to a stranger.

With your email password alone, a malicious individual can do all kinds of terrible things to you.  For example: they could send disturbing pictures to your contacts, lock you out of your account or send a letter of resignation to your boss.

According to Business Insider, cybercriminals around the world are making millions of dollars off of their victims.  Sometimes, they use extortion and blackmail to make their target pay up.  Other hackers use malicious software that makes it impossible for their prey to use their machine without paying to receive a special code.

If you’re using the web without protection today, you’re asking for trouble.

Are VPNs complicated or difficult to use?

No. Usually all you have to do to connect to a VPN service is download the software and click a button.  Once you’re in, the software runs in the background while you surf the web.

Every time I go online, I use a VPN service called IPVanish. Here’s a screenshot of what the IPVanish software looks like.

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To turn on the software and log into the VPN, all I have to do click the round button on the top right corner of the screen.

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That’s really all there is to it.  You don’t have to type in any commands or adjust any settings.  The software automates everything for you.

Unlike many memory hogging VPN software programs, IPVanish requires only a smidgen of CPU power to run.  The screenshot below shows that the software is using less than a single percentage point of my computer’s total processing power.

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When IPVanish is running, you barely notice that it’s on.

Can I use a VPN to secure my mobile device?

Absolutely.  Most VPN service providers offer mobile versions of their software.

IPVanish’s mobile app is just as well-coded and as easy to use as its PC/Mac application.  Performance is great on it, too.

Here’s what the IPVanish app’s main menu looks like on my Android:

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All I have to do is select a server, tap the green connect button and I’m in.  Just like the PC/Mac application, the VPN runs in the background while you use the web.

Additional benefits of IPVanish:

Here are a few things about IPVanish that helped push this VPN service to the top of our list:

  • Multi-Device Support Multi-Device Support
    IPVanish has apps for your android box, computer and mobile devices.
  • Complete Privacy Complete Privacy
    No one (including your ISP) can see what you’re watching. End to end encryption.
  • No Logs No Logs
    IPVanish does not collect or log any traffic or use of its VPN service.
  • 7-Day Money-Back Guarantee 7-Day Money-Back Guarantee
    Test it out! See the difference or get your money back.

Bonus: AddonHQ readers will also receive 25% off their first month’s payment on any plan.

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