Low Security at Internet Cafés

by Albin on April 27th, 2009 in Security Tips.

While traveling in Asia, I recently experienced extremely low security levels at an Internet café. I went in to check my e-mail and made a security check on the Windows OS. I opened Windows Task Manager and looked for suspicious applications running, thinking that probably thousands of users must have used this machine. While investigating the processes, I found a keylogger and another mistrustful application - both was running in stealth. Do you think the average user would have spotted that? It probably would have sent emails and maybe been paying some bills in good faith. All her/his bank details and private conversations could have been logged. 

The security thinking differs from countries around the world and the economic recourses decide how safe the surfing environment can be. There are so many tourists and backpackers who make bank transfers at Internet cafés, simply because they have no other options. In some countries, it's the single way for the locals to get online.

So how can cyber cafés get better protection?

The first step is to install a reliable firewall together with an anti-spyware/anti-virus application and update the definitions constantly. A RP should be deployed. This may not be enough protection, though. People with the intent of infecting machines may visit the café, so even if the computers are rigged in a proper way, it’s impossible to be 100% safe. The staff must reinstall/format the hard drives during regular intervals, or use software that can revert the operating system back to a clean state after every usage.

I'm not bringing this subject up to serve as a scare tactic; users need to be aware of existing security problems in this area in order to understand the issues they may face. My short conclusion is that Internet cafés must take more responsibility. Owners of the cafés are liable for their users' security to some extent. Customers pay for their service and expect to be safe, at least before they start using the machine.

Keep on surfing at cafés, but do so with at least “one eye open” and try to avoid banking business and online shopping.

Albin Bodahl

Lavasoft Malware Labs

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