When we are traveling, there’s nothing more convenient than hotels offering WiFi so we can check our email and possibly even get a little work done. Since we usually pay a premium to access the hotel’s WiFi network, many of us probably assume that it must be secure.
But the simple truth is that the vast majority of hotel WiFi networks are completely unsecured. In fact, the risks of using hotel WiFi are greater than using WiFi at home or at work. Most business travelers who are willing to connect to any network are especially vulnerable. Unless you are on an encrypted connection, it is impossible to tell the safe networks from the bad ones.
Most hotel chains are in the service business, not the WiFi protection business. That is to say, they offer WiFi service for their customers because it’s one more revenue stream, but most of them either do not understand the risks that their customers face, and/or do little to protect their customers from hackers.
What’s worse is that it can usually take months before hotels even realize that hackers have been stealing information from their guests.
One of the most common ways for hackers to steal your information when you log in to hotel WiFi networks is to set up a man-in-the-middle attack, which involves you logging into what seems to be a legitimate network (such as “Free Hotel WiFi”), but is actually a rogue WiFi access point set up by a hacker to eavesdrop on your wireless communications.
Even Hotels Say Their Service is Not Safe
Some hotels include a disclaimer that they are not responsible for any damages you may incur when using their WiFi in their Terms and Conditions that you agree to when you log in. Here’s a sample of the WiFi Terms and Conditions from a big hotel chain:
[We do] not guarantee that communication over [our] network shall be secure from monitoring or tampering, nor that information stored on any computer connected to the network shall be secure from monitoring or tampering.
Frightening Facts about Hotel WiFi
Cornell University did a study in 2008 which found that most hotel wireless networks were not secure. And 20% of the hotels surveyed admitted that malicious activities had taken place on their networks.
According to a 2013 report by Trustwave Global Security, hackers most often target hotels, retail stores, bars, and restaurants, and account for 78% of all data breaches.
Below are some steps you can take to protect yourself when using hotel WiFi networks:
- Disable or block file sharing
- Enable a Windows Firewall or install a third party personal firewall
- Use file encryption
- Most importantly, use a VPN
The best way to protect your sensitive information is to use a VPN like PRIVATE WiFi which encrypts the data moving to and from your laptop. The encryption protects your Internet communication from being intercepted by others in WiFi hotspots.
Remember, it is your responsibility to protect yourself. And this especially includes when logging into hotel WiFi networks.