It’s August, the holiday season is in full swing and holiday makers everywhere are taking some time off from the daily grind and heading for some R&R to re-charge. Whether you’re off on a staycation or venturing abroad, if you’re due to stay in a hotel with free Wi-Fi then don’t rejoice just yet!
I think it’s safe to say that Wi-Fi is one of the top things we check when we book something and when we first arrive at our destination. Is there Wi-Fi? Is it free?
Even with the best of intentions of having a digital detox whilst on holiday, the temptation to just post one photo of the pool with the caption ‘Enjoy your Monday’ with a cocktail emoji is just too much.
And those among us who have greater willpower might even get caught out – Did I pay that credit card bill? Did I send that money over to Joe that I owed him? Should I just transfer over a bit more money from savings incase we need it on holiday?
Posting on Instagram is maddening for your friends, but not particularly dangerous to you, whereas logging in to online banking using free, unprotected hotel Wi-Fi could be a disasterous start to your holiday.
So you’ve checked in and heard the words ‘Free Wi-Fi’. At this point there tends to be two camps of people – Let’s call them dogs and cats.
Dogs are trusting souls who like to see the best in everyone, especially that oh-so-helpful receptionist that’s offering them a bone, umm I mean free Wi-Fi, without having to faff around with passwords. Digital technology is all a little bit baffling to dogs so as they sit with their head tilted to one side, they fetch their phone and log straight in, afterall, who would be interested in what they were doing online anyway?
The cats are entirely more suspicious and paw anxiously at said receptionist, wondering if she realises that she’s offering a potentially dangerous service to her guests. Rather than see the best in people, they assume the worst, and a free Wi-Fi network without password protection smells very much like a rat to these fiesty felines.
Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, it’s the cats that will prevail in this situation – They are absolutely right to be suspicious and cautious. While the dogs are happily offering up their personal data without even realising, the cats are consciously choosing to not share anything remotely confidential.
Unfortunately in today’s digital world, there are hackers everywhere, and hotels are one of their biggest targets. Even the big name hotels have had data breaches. The main focus of these hackers is the Property Management Systems used for reservations, issuing room keys and storing credit card data. But that’s not to say that there aren’t hackers lurking, waiting for you to send your online banking details out into the ‘public’ domain via the hotel network.
So why exactly are hotels such a hot target for hackers? Well, technically speaking, their systems can be quite easy to penetrate so there’s the first hook. The second is in the name – hospitality. Hotels are trying their best to anticipate and satisfy the need of their potential guests and Wi-Fi is way up there on the list. Guests not only expect there to be Wi-Fi, but they expect to get it for free.
There’s nothing more frustrating and off-putting than long signing in procedures and faffing about with passwords when all you want to do is just log on. And while these procedures would be there to protect you, hotels seem to deem it more hospitable to get you connected as hassle-free and quickly as possible with no fumbling around with passwords.
So not only, from a hackers point of view, can hotel booking records be potentially easy pickings, but they also get the added cherry on top from dogs sending over their personal information using unsecure Wi-Fi networks.
So what can you actually do to protect yourselves?
Whether you’re a dog or a cat, the answer is a Virtual Private Network.
You would need to invest in, and install, the VPN on any device travelling with you that can connect to Wi-Fi.
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network functions as an encrypted tunnel to a special server located somewhere on the internet.
So, for example, you want to connect to your online banking to pay that bill or post that pool selfie on Instagram, the VPN connects to those websites on your behalf.
The traffic between the website and the VPN is encrypted so anyone snooping on your data with the intent to hack only sees a load of gobbledegook.
Thus, it’s safe to use the hotel Wi-Fi and indeed any network wherever you are – Cafes, restaurants, shopping malls etc.
What’s the downside?
If it’s so simple to protect ourselves, why doesn’t everyone do this? Well, money. Nothing in this life comes free! To have this kind of unlimited protection does come with an annual fee.
There are some free services but there will be restrictions on how much data you can use and the number of devices.
So, be more cat. And if you know you can’t resist connecting to the Wi-Fi whilst on holiday, then at least consider getting a VPN. Happy holidays!