A Word From Susan about Panama Internet Cafes

This was posted on one of the Yahoo groups by SGG and I think it is worth reemphasizing what she says. Everything she says here rings true. Some Internet Cafes are managed better than others, but most are lax in their use of updated Anti-virus and spyware programs.

The safest practice is to use your own laptop and to keep it current on all program updates. The only caution I didn’t see Susan mention is being careful with wireless connections. You are safer, if you are on a wireless connection that requires WPA encryption. WEP is less secure and no encryption is unsecured. WPA and WEP will require the wireless host to tell you the connection password.

For those of you who travel to and within Panama and use internet cafes to check email and transact other business: Do not use an internet cafe to conduct any sensitive business. Even checking email can be hazardous.

The webmaster of www.bocas.com found that out yesterday. (He surely should have known better). He was traveling and did not take his laptop, instead he went to an internet cafe to do some updates (h hosts about 100 web pages, mostly for hotels and other tourist and real estate businesses). He logged on to his hosting service site to update a page for one of his clients and his password was logged and stolen and the entire site and all of his customers pages were down for most of the day after being hacked. I found out about it because a guest with a pending reservation alerted me.

Internet cafes in Panama are often very insecure. The owners are sometimes absentee and the minimum wage employees lacking in computer savvy, particularly on security matters. Security controls are sparse or non existent and anti virus software often lacking or not updated daily.

I recommend against doing internet banking or engaging in any shopping transactions (where you have to enter bank or credit card information) at internet cafes. Do it before you leave home. Before checking your email, or doing anything that requires entering a password (in other words, anything more than casual web browsing) check the computer setup to see if your cache and history can be deleted. Many internet cafes disallow this. Be especially careful of those internet machines where you put in a dollar to use it for 40 minutes. Those computers are set up in a way that you cannot clear browser history or cache.

Allowing your email password to be stolen can be very dangerous unless you are absolutely certain that nowhere in your email history is anything sensitive (like passwords, financial information, etc.)

28 thoughts on “A Word From Susan about Panama Internet Cafes

  1. Hi Don. Just wanted to add that WEP is little more than a false sense of security. Hacker sites have a crack for it that will open it up so fast, they haven’t even finished driving by your house and they’re already exploring your hard drive for goodies. WEP beats nothing, of course.

    And some folks think “well, my wireless only goes about 90 feet” or whatever. But with a good antenna made from #10 commercial cans (the big ones in restaurants), you can pull in wireless from 350 miles.

    So use WPA and a password at least 10 characters in length with letters (upper and lower case), numerals, and punctuation characters. The bad guys will give up and go where it’s easy.

  2. Hi Fraydoh, Thanks for adding the extra information. I am surprised at how much wireless there is in David in the neighborhoods. And a lot of it has no protection at all.

  3. I’d go a step or two further than Susan and Don Ray suggest. I wouldn’t use an internet cafe, nor a Windows computer with their connection for anything that requires a password that protects anything of value. My laptop has Linux loaded just in case I have to use it on the road for website maintenance or whatever and I carry a Damn Small Linux Live CD in case I have to use their computer. If I can’t exercise either option, I just forget it. Connecting a Windows computer to an open wireless net or an internet cafe network is just asking to get pwned.


  4. Though I don’t anymore, I did have a wireless router and a laptop and one day I found a guy parked in my driveway using his laptop and my router connection. That is scary.

    Well, now, you got to come back and take a look at me in my new blonde wig.

  5. If you set your PCs up With WAP and turn off broadcast, then that would not be possible,

    I would be careful about doing that too often. You and the wig seemed to be pretty made for each other. 🙂

  6. A word of caution… You all seem to worry too much about the network. There is no difference between a wireless connection and a connection to the Internet. If your system is vulnerable it doesn’t matter, if the attack happened from a short or a long distance.
    I understand that for average people who do not happen to have worked for years in network and computer security it is quite hard to understand what is going on and there is simply too much stuff talked about. Common sense and high quality software helps a bit. Common sense means that you don’t use public computers for anything sensitive (ever heard of key loggers?). If you need to do some work on the road, connect with your own laptop and run a secure operating system, which these days more or less excludes Windows. Personally I’ve become fed up with all the lousy Windows software and switched to a Mac (basically it runs FreeBSD, which has a good track record for decades) – just because I rather sell my services to other people instead of fixing my own security problems. 😉

  7. Sorry Steven, but there is a great deal of difference between a wired and a wireless network connection.

    After working in the computer business for over 30 years, I would never tell someone that the two are equivalent.

  8. Don, the two are equivalent in the sense that they are both not secure. Unless you own the physical wires and control each and every access to it, even the perceived security of a wired connection is false security. But now we are getting into quite a bit of details. Mail me, if you want to chat more if only out of curiosity. 😉
    My point was that once you are connected to the Internet – doesn’t matter how – you are at risk unless you have taken some precautions. For Windows the advise to install all the various scanners is a good one, although not perfect and many times quite a hassle. But that’s how the world is – isn’t it? You’ve “switched” yourself for a reason – don’t you?

  9. Steven, I agree with you. However, wireless adds an additional point of vulnerability. If you are not running encrypted between the laptop and the wireless router, than you open yourself up to even more opportunities for hackers.

    No encryption, is just plain stupid and that is what a lot of wifi sites provide. If you connect to the Internet in this fassion, then you should merely surf the Internet. Never enter passwords or view Credit Card or Bank accounts.

    WEP encryption provides some security, bu a smart hacker with the right software will obtain your keys and then it as if you had no encryption.

    WAP is the best wireless encryption I know of at present. A good wifi location, hotel, restaurant, etc, should use this. Theyshould give the user the password phrase when he asks for permission to connect.

    I just wanted to make it even clearer. With more and more people are connecting via wireless and think that it is the same as through a wired connection. In either case your PC should be as secure as you can make it.

  10. Good advice, Don. As more and more people go online, and bank and check various user accounts, the security issues get scary.

    Govts can’t even keep on top of internet security issues, so what hope does Joe Public.

  11. By the way Mr.Ray wife I will soon relocateing to Portrerillos Abjo were we own that new large house on the right side past the fork in the road were the gas station is located, Greg

  12. I want to buy a new Ford Ranger from that dealership in David this comming January 09, pehaps a 4 door 4×4 diesel. Dose any one have any feed back on this dealership or this type of vehicle? Greg

  13. Dose anyone know the the latest scoop in on the project to expand the David air field, also how about the rumor about the developer from Via Escondido aquiring a track of land in Portrerillos for a new housing project?

  14. Hi Don,
    I hope that people don’t think or perceive David as a dangerous place. Reflecting on my experiences from both living and travelling in and around Panama including David for the last 25 years I have never had any problems. In fact I feel safer in David that in some places in the US and other worldly locations. I also lived in the CZ for 6 years and never experienced any criminal problems. I only had the occasional run in with the PDF.

    From my experiences as both a long term traveller in Panama including David and as a property and home owner in Portrerillos, I would encourage any one thinking about buying land in Panama to GO FOR IT.

    I will be returning to David in January and plan on picking up that new truck as I indicated before, however Don I was wondering if you could educate me on the Internet and Cable TV resources available in your area or in the Portrerillos area. Also I want to acquire a locally available 20′ shipping container in good or excellent shape for my place. Please advise if you have any input on these tasks that,
    Thanks Greg

  15. Hi Greg. I agree with your statements and have not found Chiriqui to be a dangerous place to live.

    Related to Cable and Internet, it is better to get information from others living close to the location you are interested in. David has the most options for both Internet and TV.

    For TV you can choose between Cable Onda and AstroVision cable or SKY satellite.

    For Internet you can chose between Cable & Wireless ADSL and Cable Onda cable. There are also various wireless high-speed options available which are used more in remote areas.

    Can’t help you on the container.

  16. Don,
    I hear a lot about gas in Panama, how about diesel? I”ve got my eye on a 4 cylinder turbo diesel however I dont have a clue how much it sells for in David. Also my thinking is that perhaps I could experiement with mixing used cooking oils in with the fuel to make some what of a bio fuel mix. Do you know of any one doing this in Panama or David. Being the cheep wad that I am I would rather find a way to augment the exspence of operating a vehicle down there, besides were I live I can coast 3/4 of the way down the hill to David, Greg

  17. Hi Greg. Diesel is very big here. Currently it is a little more expensive per gallon, but that wasn’t true a few years ago. Some people also say that maintenance is more expensive as well.

    My Terios gets about 34 miles to a gallon with gas and for me, it is better. It burns cleaner and like I said, currently it is less expensive.

  18. Good Morning DON,
    Another cold wintery day in Kansas, wishing that I was in David, good gas prices in Wichita however $159. I should be viseting David in January to get my new Ranger. Hay Don I see you have a contact who are looking for a home to rent, well I can tell you that we have out 4 bed room 4 bath 2 story home in Portrerillos that mostly sets empty for now. In fact my wife is there now and indicatd that she wanted to find an Americal cuouple to rent the placec out as we speake. My wife and I dont need the place untill some time after May of this comming year, so the place is up for grabs until then. Feel free to pass on this e mail and my POC if they might be interested, thanks, Greg.
    BTY DON I would like to meet you when I get down there in JAN 09.

  19. Good Morning Don,
    I’m in the market for auto insurance in David,
    something that I’m sure you have. Unlike the past it’s my understanding that one requires liablity insurance now were as when I was in Panama years ago no one botherd. I recall in Canal Zone in 1987 the when a co-worker of mine was stopped at a red light in a leagal turn lane withhis blinker on and both brake lights in working order when a fool (replacment word) hit him from behind. Well lucky for my co-worker he was insured, so when he went to a juducial hearing he was found to be at fault because 1, he was there and 2, he was the only one insured so the judge sided with the other local national driver. Now that’s what you call service.

    I hope things have come back from the abis down there as I will be required to provide proof that I have insurance in order to receive a plate for my new truck that is waiting for me. Perhaps the concept of a new car could put to rest the apprehensions of those folks looking for a used auto in your area.

    Thanks Don, Gerg

  20. Looking for a reasonably priced hotel with wireless internet access in David. Pool would be nice too. Can you help. Thanks…Ian

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