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8 tips for staying safe on hotel WiFi.

by Andrea on October 28, 2014

wifi security

Earlier this year a hacker claimed he took control of the whole St Regis hotel in Shenzhen. He spoofed the guest iPads, which control room access and automation, and triggered all the do-not-disturb lights on his floor to check that his hack worked. It did. That should worry you if you’ve logged on to a hotel’s WiFi network – or Ethernet – recently. Your data is not 100% secure.

It’s not secure from the hotel, which can see any traffic passing in or out through its network. But it’s not secure from your neighbours either. If the rooms are connected via a hub, a neighbour’s laptop could see your information. Usually, it will ignore it – but if your neighbour were a hacker, he could see everything you download or upload, including your usernames and passwords.

Fortunately, there are ways you can protect yourself from data theft…

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  • Check you’re on the right WiFi network to start with. Make sure you check the name of the hotel network, and only connect to that one. A hacker could easily set up a network called ‘free Ritz WiFi’ – and unless you checked with the hotel, you’d be none the wiser.

  • If the hotel has a login page that asks you to enter personal information such as your name and room number, check that it’s https not just plain http, so it’s not hackable. The same goes for any site that is password protected – use SSL/https.

  • Use your computer’s firewall if you’re logging on with a laptop. Make sure that you also disable file sharing and printer sharing.

  • Configure your email system to use SSL connections for sending and downloading your mail. If you’re using webmail like Gmail or Yahoo, make sure you’re logged on using an https connection, and make sure your webmail doesn’t drop back to unsecured http. Or if you have to use an insecure connection, encrypt your emails.

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  • Don’t use hotel WiFi for sensitive stuff like online banking or broking, or confidential emails. Or, if you’re a real road warrior, get a virtual private network (VPN) which works as a kind of ‘tunnel’ through which to pass your data. If you have a device that can work on your mobile network, you might consider using your mobile network, which is more secure.

  • Block popups. If you see any, don’t click on them. They are likely to be attempts at hacking into your computer.

  • Keep your software up to date. Make sure you update basic software before any major road trip.

  • Don’t use the same password for all your banking, investment and work related sites, and your webmail too. If they all have the same password, a hacker only has to find the password for one of them and he’ll have access to all the others too.

WiFi is notoriously insecure. But don’t be fooled; just because you’re plugged in doesn’t make things any safer. Hotel Ethernet is just as insecure; a bad guy can manage to put himself right in the middle of all the internet traffic on an Ethernet network, intercepting and logging everyone else’s activity.

The way to be secure isn’t to avoid WiFi – it’s to be careful what you do on the net, and employ basic security protocols to guard your data.

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Photo credits: Cristiano Betta, Marcin Wichary, pixelcreatures.

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