public wifi

Bongani gave a sigh of relief as he sat down at a table near the back of the Mugg & Bean. He had been walking around Cavendish Square all morning and his feet ached. Smelling the delicious muffins and freshly-baked bread, he realised how hungry he was and he quickly ordered a cup of coffee and a cheese muffin.

Once settled, he got out his laptop and checked for a wireless signal. He found several options, including weaker signals for nearby restaurants. Oddly, he found 2 signals for the Mugg & Bean – one called MuggBean_wireless and the other Mug_Bean_free_wireless. “Well, no contest there”, he thought. “Free wireless is free wireless.” He clicked the Connect button and sipped his coffee while the connection was established.

Just then, his phone rang. He picked it up and checked the screen; it was his mother. “Hey mom,” he said, “what’s up?”

“Hello Bongani. I was just wondering whether you received the pocket money I deposited in your account for the month,” she said. “I transferred it yesterday, and seeing as you usually phone to thank me, I thought there might be something wrong.”

“I’m not sure, mom,” he said “let me check and I’ll call you back later.”

“Great. Thanks sweetie,” she said.

After hanging up, he saw that his laptop was now connected to the wireless signal. He navigated to his Internet banking site and logged onto his account. He checked his balance and smiled when he saw that the amount was there. Just then, the waiter came over and brought him his muffin. He thanked the man and took a bite. A few minutes later, a beep on his phone indicated he had a message on Twitter. With his laptop still connected, he logged into his Twitter account and browsed through the latest tweets and news. He replied to the tweet, then decided to check Facebook too.

After half an hour on Facebook and another cup of coffee, the Twitter alert beeped again. Stuart – a university friend – had messaged him, saying “Dude, your Twitter has been hacked, you’re spamming me!”

“What?” he thought. “How is that possible?” He checked his outbox, and sure enough, there were a number of messages to his friends saying things like ‘Someone has posted photos of you’, ‘Someone is spreading rumours about you,’ and ‘Someone has made cruel posts about you.’ All the posts had links in them. Bongani scrolled through them, horrified. He replied to Stuart – what should I do???!’

He chewed his fingernails nervously as he awaited a reply. Frustrated, he decided to check his email and found a few new messages in his inbox. One of them seemed very odd: it thanked him for his personal details and his ‘donation’.

“That has to be spam,” he thought. Next was a message from his bank, saying “R5000.00 has been transferred to Sudan Offshore Holdings via EFT Mug_Bean_free_wireless”.

He froze. What was happening? Surely this couldn’t be real? He had better check his balance just to be sure. He went over to the bank website again….and realised he hadn’t logged out of his bank account. He gulped and clicked through to the Accounts page to check his balance. It said, “Remaining balance: R126.23”.

What had happened? He decided to call Stuart – who was a bit of a computer geek – and ask him for help. When Stuart answered, Bongani frantically explained what had happened and asked what he should do. “Where are you logged on, dude?” Stuart asked. “At Mugg and Bean. They have free wireless here”.

“No they don’t,” said Stuart. “Spell out the name of the connection for me…it sounds like a cyber-criminal has fooled you, and has hacked your computer.”

Thinking back, Bongani realised that there had been two choices of wireless and that he had picked the free one. He relayed this and the details of the connection to Stuart, as well as the news about his empty bank account.

“That’s not Mugg & Bean’s wireless. It’s a hacker – it’s a fake network. You need to log off right now!” yelled Stuart. “Then you need to change all your passwords, and we’ll have to report the theft to the store manager, your bank’s fraud division, and the police’s cyber-crimes unit.”

Bongani hung up and logged off, closing his browser, only to discover that half the folders on his desktop were missing. That was all his homework for Monday! This was just too much. Fuming, he marched through to the Cavendish Square management offices and demanded to speak to someone in charge. He heatedly explained what had happened and demanded an explanation.

Andrew, the supervisor on duty, accompanied him back to the Mugg and Bean, where he sat down with the Mugg & Bean store manager and discussed the problem. The manager undertook to check the nearby wireless signals in future, and Andrew – on behalf of the centre management – agreed to communicate the problem to all other wireless providers in the centre so that similar incidents could be prevented in future.

The store manager apologised to Bongani but explained that, unfortunately, there was nothing more he could do to recover his lost money or data. As a small consolation, however, the manager offered to give him his meal on the house, plus free use of the store’s Wi-Fi for a month.