Restaurants Are the Perfect Targets for Hackers

The Hacking Threat, Most Restaurant Customers, Don’t Know About

In recent years, hackers have been able to infiltrate even the most secure and well-protected networks. Target, Sony, Yahoo, and countless other companies—businesses with large teams of intelligent anti-hacking professionals at their disposal—have not only been hacked but have had customers’ personal information stolen from their records. Consequently, previously stellar hacking defenses have been upgraded in every sense, and today, less than a decade after some of the world’s biggest companies were hacked, stories of businesses being compromised are few and far between. The majority of hackers have given up on getting past large businesses’ firewalls, tracking software, and strong overall defenses.

Coffee Shop

But this isn’t because hackers have stopped their efforts to compromise customer information altogether.

On the contrary, while the focus of hackers has shifted, their efforts haven’t decreased in frequency; if anything, they’ve ramped up, and are presently endangering more individuals than ever before.

Big businesses and multinational corporations are now able to defend their customers’ information from hackers. Restaurants and cafes—establishments with virtually no anti-hacking or security measures in place—have subsequently become hackers’ “go-to” targets. Unfortunately, most customers are totally unaware of the threat they face each and every time they dine out.

To protect as many individuals as possible from restaurant hackers, let’s take a look at some of the ways hackers infiltrate restaurant networks—and how these hacking methods can be negated by customers.

Public Internet

There’s a reason that most tech professionals recommend that internet users password-protect their connections, and it’s not because unauthorized browsers can surf the web for free. To be sure, unprotected Wi-Fi runs the risk of being hacked. Hackers can infiltrate the internet source and monitor the browsing habits of users—including their payment and personal information.

This risk is easy enough to avoid at home—a password takes minutes to install—but on public Wi-Fi, and mainly that which is offered by a multitude of restaurants and cafes, opportunistic hackers can steal a great deal of personal information in a matter of minutes. Like the type of restaurant hacking explored in the next section, illegitimate credit card processors, internet hacking is hard for customers to detect until it’s too late, and their finances have been harmed.

A couple key workarounds exist for this threat. The first refers to avoiding using public Wi-Fi altogether. Although not ideal, this is the cheapest and most definitive way to fend-off prying eyes and conceal significant private details from hackers. On the other hand, those who rely on public Wi-Fi for work and/or for convenience might not want to give up their access. That’s commendable and understandable, and these individuals would be wise to invest in virtual private network (VPN) software.

VPNs allow web users to mask their IP address or the location from which they’re browsing. By doing so, they can minimize the chances of being hacked; hackers simply won’t be able to detect their presence on local connections.

If VPN software is for some reason, not a personally viable option (it’s very affordable to purchase, for the record), and restaurant Wi-Fi cannot be replaced with a more secure connection, it’s strongly recommended that browsers avoid entering personal and/or financial information into websites.

Credit Card Processors

Credit card processors are surprisingly easy to hack. Hackers can do so in many ways, the most popular of which involves placing a counterfeit scanner over the actual scanner (or replacing this scanner with a counterfeit variation entirely), which then provides customers’ credit card information to hackers’ remote databases. These tools are incredibly hard for law enforcement professionals to detect and track, and they’re usually revealed only after a multitude of customers have had their credit cards—or, worse yet, their debit cards—hacked. Also, hackers sometimes target restaurants’ records, which are stored in payment-processing computers, to steal credit card information outright.

It should also be emphasized that employees, in the vast majority of instances, are entirely unaware of counterfeit processors and direct hacks. The computers they’ve used countless times to charge credit cards will display the same confirmation screen, and every aspect of the process will look the same as it did before the hackers compromised the system. This is a testament to how much time, effort, and energy hackers invest in their programs.

Savvy diners can take a few critical steps towards avoiding counterfeit credit card processors. First, they can forego paying for restaurant tabs with credit and debit cards, and they can instead opt to use cash as frequently as possible; to be clear, this is the only 100% effective way to prevent credit card details from being stolen by restaurant hackers. For those who don’t wish to use cash, a prepaid debit card—or a card that operates just like a traditional debit card, except that it contains only a select amount of funds based upon how much was deposited by the buyer—is a good idea. It sure would stink to lose $100 (or whatever small amount is deposited), but it’s a lot better than the alternative. Establishing a prepaid debit card that’s meant to be used exclusively in restaurants is advisable.

Friends and Family Members

To be clear, this point doesn’t refer to friends and family members who intentionally steal and/or hack financial information. Instead, it refers to friends and family members who accidentally compromise another individual’s financial information by using the internet and/or credit card processor of a small restaurant or café.

A surprising number of cardholders believe that their accounts are in good standing, only to be shocked by a call from a banking or credit professional who claims that the account at-hand has been compromised. Frank conversations should be had (and clear-cut boundaries should be established) between spouses, parents and children, close friends, and any other individuals who may occasionally exchange or lend credit cards, use one another’s phones, laptops, or other mobile devices, and/or somehow reveal information to hackers.

For this tip, the best preventative measure is knowledge and foresight; a little bit of explanation and conversation today can prevent hackers from stealing financial details and/or personal information tomorrow.

Hopefully, the content and ideas described here illustrate the depth and severity of the hacking risk that’s present in each of today’s restaurants, cafes, and local eateries.

The good news is that some planning and awareness can more or less guarantee that hackers won’t be able to compromise one’s financial and personal details. Moreover, anti-hacking companies and professionals are making developmental progress on a wide variety of tools and programs that restaurants can use to combat data harvesters. It’s expected that these tools and programs will become available in the near future and that within multiple years, restaurant hackings will be as rare as big-business hackings.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to staying safe from hackers and data harvesters!

Isaac Adams-Hands

Full Stack Developer, Digital Marketer, and InfoSec enthusiast. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Western Sydney and his Business Diploma from Georgian College before joining various marketing positions in search portals, e-commerce, higher education, and addiction recovery services.

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