Starbucks' Free WiFi Hijacked Computers of Customers to Mine Cryptocurrency

An Argentinian Starbucks was discovered to be hacking customers' computers when they logged onto the free WiFi in order to mine for cryptocurrency.
Jessica Miley

As the value of bitcoin goes through the roof it seems everyone is trying to get their hands on the cryptocurrency - even if that means hacking and hijacking computer power from strangers. The latest surreptitious cryptocurrency mining happened in a Starbucks in Buenos Aires. CEO of email building software, Stensul, Noah Dinkin discovered the hack when grabbing a coffee at Starbucks in the Argentinian capital. He tweeted his horror of the discovery at the coffee chain saying: “Hi Starbucks, did you know that your in-store wifi provider in Buenos Aires forces a 10-second delay when you first connect to the wifi so it can mine bitcoin using a customer's laptop? Feels a little off-brand.”

Starbucks responded to the accusation saying that they fixed the delay and subsequent mining as soon as they were alerted to the problem. Future customers to the cafe can rest easy that the free WiFi is secure for its users. “As soon as we were alerted of the situation in this specific store last week, we took swift action to ensure our internet provider resolved the issue and made the changes needed in order to ensure our customers could use Wifi in our store safely," the official Starbucks account tweeted to Dinkin.

The hack works by injecting a user’s browser with code that then uses their processing power to generate digital tokens of a selected cryptocurrency. This process is known as mining and requires an intense pull on resources. While some accused Starbucks of a publicity stunt, the coffee giant was quick to point out to media that the incident was isolated to one store. "Last week, we were alerted to the issue and we reached out to our internet service provider—the Wifi is not run by Starbucks, it's not something we own or control," Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said. "We want to ensure that our customers are able to search the internet over Wifi securely, so we will always work closely with our service provider when something like this comes up."

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UFC and Subaru targetted by miners

Starbucks isn’t the only major brand to be targeted by cryptocurrency miners. CEO of Wyre, which uses blockchain technology to transfer money, Michael Dunworth explained why miners are motivated to hack website. “If you wanted to mine Bitcoin, you’d need a massive warehouse full of computers to have much success, so this is a much easier way for hackers to get access to cryptocurrency,” he said. Car manufacturer Subaru and the official streaming website of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have both been targeted by hackers who can boost their mining operations with users computer power.

Website mining might become the future of web revenue

The trick isn’t only reserved for the unawares though. Torrent host site, Pirate Bay recently tested the use of the same technology as a way to provide income for the site so they could reduce advertising. While Pirate Bay provides a free service to its visitors, the website still has maintenance costs. Currently, these are covered by infamously terrible and invasive advertising. However, the company has made clear its desire to remove them from the site. One way to do this would be to use some of its visitors' computing power to mine cryptocurrency. The site tested the option recently but has not made further comments on whether it would investigate further.