FBI Warns Travelers Abroad: Watch Out for Wifi Crime at Hotel Hotspots

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This month, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center issued a stark warning to travelers:  If you use hotel Wifi hotspots abroad, you could get burned.  The alert says cybercriminals are targeting travelers abroad using pop-up windows that appear while they are trying to connect to the Internet through hotel Wifi.  The pop-ups tell hotel guests that they need to update a widely used software product.  But when they click to install it, what they get instead is malware on their laptops.

Hotel Hotspots Are Trouble Spots for Wifi Users

The government’s unusual warning highlights the need for travelers to be on guard whenever they use hotel hotspots.  But all too often, what happens is that, in their rush to get connected, caution goes out the hotel window.  According to InformationWeek, that’s what Steve Lord, a director of Mandalorian, an information security consulting firm, discovered when he conducted a Wifi hotspot experiment of his own.  At this year’s Black Hat Europe conference in Amsterdam – a city with many known hackers – Lord set up a free Wifi hotspot called “LEGITFREEWIFI.”  Incredibly, some of the people attending the security conference focusing on Internet crime took the bait and used the fake hotspot!

Hackers Are Targeting Franchises With Wireless Networks

The Trustwave 2012 Global Security Report found that hotel Wifi networks were easy targets for hackers because hotel wireless security was often lax.  According to the report, industries with franchise models are the new cyber targets, accounting for a third of the security company’s 2011 investigations. Because hotels are often franchises with the same wireless network system in all their locations, when cybercriminals hack one hotel Wifi network, they can apply what they’ve learned to other sites. Trustwave’s report points to another reason online security is so lax:  The most common password used by global businesses is Password1. Might as well put up a sign that says “Hackers Enter Here.”

Make Sure You’re Not the Next Hotel Hotspot Hacking Victim

The Trustwave report and the federal government’s warning about hotel Wifi crime are wakeup calls for travelers using Wifi hotspots.  To avoid becoming a cybercrime victim, the Internet Crime Complaint Center recommends doing software updates before you travel and downloading all updates directly from the vendor’s website. It’s also a good idea to configure your laptop to block all pop-ups.

Since hotel hotspots and all hotspots are inherently insecure, your best protection against hackers is using a Private VPN like PRIVATE WiFi™.  Private VPNs protect you from Wifi crime by encrypting the information traveling to and from your computer.  That makes it useless to hackers because they can’t see it.

If you’ve believe you’ve been hacked at a hotel hotspot, contact your local FBI office and immediately report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.

We’d also like to hear your story. Sharing it with others may prevent them from becoming victims of hotel hotspot crime.

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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.

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  • Loveth

    Hello is there any way i can use this wifi tehter wtoihut turing on 4G (only works when 4g is on), I live outside the states so here there are no 4G networks with Wimax tha means for my CDMA HTC Evo 3D 4G doesnst work here onlyt 3G but decent speed , only 4G working here is via GSM so just wondering how can i use the wifi tether w/o turning on 4G for battery save issues, if i got 4G on works perfectly thoTY