As an amenity for customers, Starbucks offers you the ability to surf the Web on its free Wi-Fi while you sip your favorite coffee. Connecting to Starbucks Wi-Fi is as simple as choosing its connection from the list on your computer or smartphone, since the network requires no passwords for connection. While convenient, this does leave the network insecure, so taking steps to protect yourself while using Starbucks Wi-Fi is a must.
Starbucks Wi-Fi Connections
As of publication, Starbucks is in the process of switching from AT&T to Google Wi-Fi services. Locations still using AT&T offer Wi-Fi with the SSID "attwifi," while Google locations use the SSID "Google Starbucks." Even if it has "Starbucks" in the name, don't connect to any other networks you find in the area -- they aren't legitimate Starbucks connections.
Windows Public Wi-Fi Settings
Unsecured public Wi-Fi like that offered by Starbucks requires some careful settings within Windows to protect your system. When setting up the connection, choose the Public network option and select the Turn off network discovery and Turn off file and printer sharing radio buttons to switch off all file and device-sharing options in order to limit access to your computer's files on this network.
Virtual Private Networks
Setting up a virtual private network is a good way to prevent your connection from eavesdropping. VPNs create encrypted connections between two points on a network, namely your computer and a website. Without the VPN's decryption key, it's extremely difficult for hackers to decode any data they intercept. SecurityKISS, CyberGhost VPN and VPNBook are all free VPN services that offer a secure, encrypted connection between your computer and online resources like websites and chat clients. These services are generally very similar, differing primarily in how they encrypt the connections and how much data can be transmitted over the connection per day.
Secure Website Connections
Secure websites are also very useful for preventing information theft while on Starbucks Wi-Fi. You can tell websites are secure by checking the URL for a "HTTPS" prefix, as well as a little lock icon in the address bar. Chrome, Firefox and Opera also have extensions like HTTPS Everywhere, SSL Enforcer and ForceHTTPS, which automatically enable security features like HTTPS or Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption or block sites without these features. While relying completely on these extensions and HTTPS-enabled websites won't guarantee safety using a public connection, they can be useful tools when used with other safety measures.
Generally, you should never use public Wi-Fi to look at sensitive information like bank accounts or credit cards. Even taking all the precautions you can, there is still a chance of data interception and identity theft. Access sensitive information only on trusted, secured networks.
Other Safety Tips
Never access public Wi-Fi connections without up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software, and, whenever possible use two-factor authentication. Whenever you're not using the connection, switch your computer to airplane mode or switch off Wi-Fi to prevent unauthorized access via the network. Also, delete the connection from your connection list when you're done, unless you use the Wi-Fi at that particular Starbucks frequently.