A new hotel network security study by Cornell University entitled “Hotel Network Security: A Study of Computer Networks in U.S. Hotels” has proven that using the wireless Internet – and even cabled Internet – at your hotel is almost always inherently insecure and unsafe.
“Many hotels have flaws in their network topology that allow for exploitation by malicious users, thereby resulting in the loss of privacy for guests,” says the study.
Surveying 147 hotels across the United States, and actually trying to hack into 46, the Hotel Network Security study’s authors found that the majority of U.S. hotels – both tourist and business class – were wide open to attacks and to having guests’ personal data compromised.
Said study co-author Josh Ogle, “Out of the 38 wireless, I was able to break into 33. And by break into I mean, accept data from someone else’s computer that wasn’t meant to be on mine.”
In large part the problem is that most hotel networks are generally running on open, insecure infrastructure, without even WPA encryption, and so a hacker can see all the unencrypted information coming into and leaving the network. This would include account numbers, passwords, email, and the web pages that the guests are accessing.
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Just because you need a password to access the hotel’s network doesn’t mean that the network is secure or encrypted. In fact, the password access is often the only “protection” that the hotel network has.
“They are extremely unsecure,” says Ogle. “I was very disheartened by what I saw. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disheartened.”
Hotel guests wanting to protect themselves should either set up a VPN (virtual private network) to access the Internet or, if you travel a lot, consider getting a high-speed USB modem card from Verizon or Sprint, and using that instead of the hotel network. (We use the high-speed USB modem from Verizon and it’s excellent – and a bonus perk is that you have Internet access with you wherever you go.)
And, of course, be sure that your antivirus program is up to date.
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