Keeping your data safe when using WiFi in hotels and public places

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By Mike Ianiri, Equinox

Hotel WiFi can seem like a godsend when you’re travelling, particularly on business, when keeping up with work email etc. is essential.

However, the hotel industry is one of the top sectors to suffer data breaches – it’s a cyber criminal’s dream with the amount of information hotels potentially hold about you: your name, address, passport details, car registration plates and credit card details and more. And that’s before check in! 

When you connect to the WiFi network and enter the required personal details, where does this data go? Most Guest WiFi access has a software that sits behind the access points and stores all this information. The repercussions, if a cybercriminal gains access to the backend, can be potentially catastrophic.

Let’s look at ways you can protect yourself when you are out and about.

Connect via your mobile

Public WiFi networks are rarely secure. We recommend, wherever possible, to connect to the internet via your mobile phone. Use your data allowance, and the security built into your phone, instead of a public network. Mobile data is becoming cheaper and cheaper:

  • Vodafone has a 20Gb data SIM only contract for £20 per month
  • O2 are selling 32Gb of data for £26 per month

The only issue comes when you cannot get a decent signal, most likely due to the structure of the building.

Use a VPN connection

If you cannot get a secure internet connection, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection is the next best thing. This allows you to connect to your company network by creating a secure “tunnel” between your laptop and your network. This stops others from accessing your data.

To create a VPN, talk to your IT department. They are likely to have their preferred software application for this, or if you want to use the Windows VPN tool, you will need to know the names and IP addresses of the server(s) you wish to connect to.

Keep a low profile

When you do log into a public WiFi, it will sometimes ask you if you wish to be discovered, or visible, to others on the network. Always say No. While you’re at it, turn off file and print sharing so that nobody can send or receive files from you across the WiFi.

RFID Shields

Public places, such as hotels, are great hunting grounds for thieves looking for card data. They can easily steal your card information by skimming. With near-field communication (NFC) technology, they don’t even have to get hold of the card anymore; simply get close to it.  Passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) protection comes in the form of a shield (credit card sized) that slides into your wallet next to your cards or there are now wallets with this tech built into the material. More active solutions, using other radio frequencies, will actively block the signal used by the skimmers.

Keep your devices close

If you’re working in the hotel lounge don’t leave devices unattended, even for a minute.  You don’t want to have to explain to your boss or business partner that there’s been a data breach and it has to be report to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) with 72 hours.

Always take these precautions and keep your data safe, wherever you are.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Ianiri is Director of independent telecoms brokerage Equinox. Mike works with companies, charities and other organisations to help them choose the right telecoms packages for their needs and thereby reduce their costs. He is particularly knowledgeable on the integration of IT and telecoms in business.  www.equinoxcomms.co.uk 

Twitter: @CommsEquinox

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