Someone’s nightmare is often someone else’s dream come true.
For example, suppose you’re deathly afraid of clowns and you were tasked with planning an event for 500 members of a clown organization. While you’d be terrified at the thought of being there, the client who initiated the gathering would be having the time of his life.
The scenario is the same with your private personal and professional data—a nightmare if you were to lose it, a dream to those who would mine it for profit.
In recent years there has been a lot of focus on Internet security, identity theft and how to stay safe online, mostly aimed at consumers and individual networks. And there is now a massive industry devoted to trying to turn your office and your home into a web-connected Fort Knox. But for those of us who frequent hotels and convention centers, there can be a gaping hole in the security measures taken to keep our information secure.
According to a recent study from Cornell University’s hotel school, a “substantial majority of hotels” are not doing all that can be done to maintain the security of their networks for their guests. And a gathering of attendees with their transmissions left unattended on open computer networks can be a pretty ripe and easy target. As part of the study, university researchers surveyed 147 hotels and found that 20 percent were still using a rudimentary network that is surprisingly vulnerable to attacks by hackers. The study points out, as business travelers connect remotely in order to continue working while on the road, the potential for cyber theft increases with the use of outdated technology.
The study doesn’t differentiate between plugged-in or wireless connections as the issue often lies at the base of the connection. Of 39 hotels with Wi-Fi connections personally tested by the researchers, only six used encryption to help protect the users’ computer.
The researchers at Cornell weren’t out to strike fear in the public’s heart or turn a profit by selling their services—they were trying to help hotels improve the security of guests’ Internet access. They pointed out one hotel in particular with a tight grip on its digital communications without incurring any ridiculous costs that need be passed along to the consumer—The W Dallas-Victory hotel, which has taken steps to essentially set up private networks for individual guests to make their data as secure when they’re in their home or office.
Until hotels start a mass adoption of the report’s recommendations (start asking around and you may be surprised how quickly they act), not all is out of guests’ hands. Even if the setup isn’t optimal, some simple steps can help get the most out of the security provided. A good place to start is by asking the front desk for the correct name of the hotspot connection in order to prevent joining another, insecure network. Another simple safety measure is turning off the computer’s desire to automatically connect to the easiest-to-join network, which will ensure all the proper steps are taken before logging on. A less simple but effective method of prevention is using a firewall other than the one set up at your office (if you’re not plugged in at the office, it won’t do you any good when you’re away). And the best option is to take advantage, if you are able to, of your virtual private network. A corporate VPN allows users to log into their company’s network and preserve all the safety nets and security measures that the IT administrators have set up for the office.
While location, cost and amenities have long been cornerstones considered when deciding where to book groups, a new set of questions about Internet security may take precedent over asking whether there is secured parking for guests to stash their car. The security of e-mails, credit cards and corporate communications could be more devastating than the loss of any sedan. Of course, if for some reason you’re expecting a lot of sports cars, ask about the parking, too.
Additional Security Tips
- Avoid using business centers, as they are often open to anyone without using a password. There’s no way to know who put what on that computer before you sat down.
- While you’re turning off the computer’s automatic log-on to the easiest network connection, turn off file and printer sharing on your laptop so other computers don’t have an open door to your information. Most PCs come with this option turned on by default, so it can be an easy way in to unsuspecting computers.
- Read the Cornell report: hotelschool.cornell.edu/research/chr/pubs/reports/abstract14928.html
- Information on firewalls: firewallguide.com