Travellers Are Easy Targets! How Secure Free Hotel Wi-Fi Services Are?

Booking a hotel, what’s the very first you check? Free Wi-Fi, right? In fact, hotels and lodging inns are luring guests to stay through their fast and reliable Wi-Fi services. Now that’s a good thing for every traveler who still wants to stay connected with the outside world. However, there are instances when such a service can be a blatant threat to your, your loved ones and your possessions.

You still don’t get it? The threat lurks inside that executive suite you rent. Have you ever wondered just how safe these free Internet connection services are?

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Wi-Fi networks on hotels are no different from Wi-Fi networks on coffee shops. Such networks increase any guest’s susceptibility (including yours) to man-in-the-middle attacks once he or she connected to the hotel’s Wi-Fi. These attacks compromise sensitive information. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), along with the FBI, warns the public that malicious attacks on hotel-connected devices are on a consistent rise.

IC3 says that in majority of the cases, “the traveller was attempting to set up the hotel room Internet connection and was presented with a pop-up window notifying the user to update a widely-used software product. If the user agreed to install the update, malicious software was installed instead.”

Further, a 2009 study conducted by TrustWave SpiderLabs found out that nearly 40% of security breaches occurred in hotel networks. The risks involved are so great that it is greater than that of the wireless networks we use at home or in the office. What’s worse? A hotel only discovers the breach only after five months or more! And the common target is the credit card system of the hotel.

 

I travel a lot. How can I keep myself safe while on a hotel network?

Basic preventive measures still apply. These are:

1) When browsing the web, use a VPN (virtual private network). VPN encrypts digital interactions and prevents interception by others. Rest assured that through this, all your information are secured and protected even when you are away.

2) If sharing personal information cannot be avoided, share them on https sites only. Https is a protocol that offers secured connections. This indicates that the website is automatically encrypted.

3) Turning off file sharing is also advisable. By default, file sharing is turned on which leave sensitive information for the thieves to steal. You must do this even before logging into the hotel’s connection.

4) Another important advice: updating and turning the firewall on. While it cannot entirely prevent hacking, firewall deters specific types of malicious attacks and notifies you should an attack is attempted.

5) Updating your browser. Browsers have specific features to protect you from identity thieves. The browser also notifies the user in light of a perceived threat.

6) After updating your firewall and browser, the next logical step is installing an antivirus software (if your device doesn’t have any).

 

Norton offers other advices such as:

  • Make sure that you are connecting to the correct hotel network, not an evil copycat. Confirm the name of the network with a front desk officer.
  • Don’t select networks that appear (and feel) as fake like ‘free public Wi-Fi). Use only the network that the hotel provides.
  • Avoid sharing files. Disable or block it. Also, avoid visiting file-sharing sites especially those that offer free downloads.
  • Disconnect from the network when not in use.
  • Avoid any type of financial transaction. Don’t even attempt visiting your bank’s website.

 

My hotel offers password-protected Wi-Fi. I am safe now, right?

Sorry, but yours truly has to burst that bubble. Indeed, no password protection can protect the users connected on the same network. Most hotels offer two common types of encryption: WEP (wired equivalent privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi protected access).

WEP is outdated and thus do not offer optimal digital security. WPA was introduced to compensate for WEP’s weaknesses. WPA, however, is not 100% fool-proof since it can be cracked. In fact, it is more susceptible to hacking in instances when another guest in the hotel is the hacker provided that he was also given the same network access.

 

Then perhaps I can use the hotel’s Ethernet connection?

Again, sorry to inform you, but LAN (local area network) is no better than WEP and WPA. If WEP is already outdated at 15 years, LAN is much worse since it has been in used more than 30 years ago.

It is not safe because any user in the same network can access personally identifiable information and passwords as well as documents. LAN sends the network’s data to all computers that connect to it. LAN configurations also don’t include the right security protocols.

 

One key takeaway from this article is: whether wired or not, you – your information, passwords, documents, images, etc. – are not safe from any hacking attempt. Thereby, it is your responsibility to take the necessary measures in protecting your data. Be careful what you share online to keep the travel-related stresses at a minimum.

 

Source: Hotspot Shield | Private Wi-Fi | Travel Tips in USA Today

Image credit: Hospitality Risk Solutions