1-2-3-4: Simple Travel Tips to Safeguard Your Online Privacy As Free Hotel WiFi Expands

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Check out what’s coming to the Crowne Plaza, InterContinental, and Holiday Inn hotels — free WiFi — and you don’t even need a room key to hop online!

The parent company, IHG, will now offer free Internet to all members of its revised loyalty program, slashing the daily Internet fee — and here’s the kicker — regardless of whether the loyalty member is actually booked in a guest room at the hotel. The hotel chain says it is simply “responding to our guests” by offering free Internet.

Similarly, the Marriott Hotels & Resorts chain will now have free WiFi access in the lobbies of its nearly 500 hotels.

But why are hotels even offering free WiFi when it’s been reported over and over that hotel WiFi hacking is on the rise? The chains say it’s a “perk” they must offer due to customer demand, but is it safe? And why are they offering it at all? Here are some ideas why so many hotels are finally conceding to free wireless Internet, according to The 2012 HotelChatter Hotel WiFi Report:

Guests are getting dinged with internet charges per device (cellphone, tablet, laptop, etc.) because hotel WiFi networks are too antiquated to handle multiple devices per room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hotels have also complained that streaming digital media services like Netflix are sucking up precious bandwidth forcing the hotels to invest more money into their networks and (so they claim) to keep on charging guests per day (and per device) for internet access.

 

 

 

 

But we’ve got the numbers on how much it costs a hotel to install and maintain a decent network and there’s no reason why hotels should be charging us for this service, which is just as important as air conditioning and working toilets, other than it’s an easy revenue source.

At the rate most hotel chains are clamoring to keep up with free WiFi demands, this list of the Best Hotels for WiFi (and its counterpart, the Worst Hotels for WiFi) may soon be outdated.  Regardless, the observations made in the lists about wireless Internet at luxury hotel chains are worth a read.

But as we’ve pointed out in the past, it seems that hotels are making a tradeoff between ease of use and security. In other words, the chains feel it is their role to provide a very easy-to-use WiFi service and leave the security responsibility to the individual users.

Indeed, cybercriminals are targeting travelers by 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.

1-2-3-4: Easy Security Steps to Remember

When you’re in a hotel that brags about its new free WiFi, be sure to remind them the “benefit” isn’t really as great as they imagine. The bottom line is that you can’t rely on hotels (or any other WiFi provider) to protect you. You need to protect yourself by taking the following steps:

First, just as you would lock the door once you get into your hotel room, think before you click! Forbes featured an in-depth article about the risks inherent in hotel wireless networks and the importance of using a personal virtual private network (VPN). Our easy-to-use personal VPN, Private WiFi, was just called a game changer by Cool Mom Tech.

Second, use a firewall. On a Mac, select System Preferences and click Security to activate; on Windows, click Start, double-click Network and Internet, select Windows Firewall, and click Turn Windows Firewall On.

Third, turn off file sharing. If you have file-sharing turned on (and your firewall is configured to allow for file sharing) once you connect to a hub-based WiFi network, your folders and files can be accessed by anyone else in the same network.

Fourth, change passwords often. Malicious hackers use “sniffing” to look for password information over unsecured networks. Since so many people use the same passwords for various websites, even if you’re only logging into Facebook while on hotel wireless, someone stealing your password could later affect your online banking or financial transactions.

 

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi’s manager of digital content strategy.