Is Hotel Wi-Fi safe? Should I use a VPN?
Very few of us are immune to free Wi-Fi, and the first thing we do when we get to a free Wi-Fi zone is to log in. Regardless of how much we hold a hotel in esteem and assume their Wi-Fi is safe, it is no different from any public Wi-Fi network. Most hotels like to make it seem like their network is the most secure, and when you check-in, you get a little paper slip with the password printed on it. Some hotels have systems that ask you to provide your room number to gain access, creating an illusion of safety.
Here are some of the reasons hotel Wi-Fi is not safe.
1. Risk of Credit Card Numbers Theft
It is effortless for hackers to steal your credit card data when you log into hotel Wi-Fi. Cyber-criminals can set up a Man-in-the-Middle attack where they intercept the data from your device before it arrives at its destination, such as an online store or bank.
To execute these Man-in-the-middle attacks, the hackers locate a poorly secured or unsecured Wi-Fi router such as your hotel. When you enter your credit card data to pay for your hotel bill, the hackers intercept the data. Another attack is the Evil Twin attack, where hackers create a Wi-Fi network that mimics the hotel network. If the hotel network is named Hotel1, for example, the cybercriminals will set up one called Hotel2; deceiving people into thinking it is the hotel’s network.
2. Theft of Passwords and Usernames
When you enter your username or password into sites while browsing on a hotel’s Wi-Fi, you put yourself at risk by exposing hackers’ credentials. If you type your username and password into your online banking app via hotel Wi-Fi, you can easily steal this information and hack into your bank account. You should never access your banking app using public Wi-Fi.
3. Malware Infection
A skilled hacker does not have to depend on stealing passwords or data interception. The hackers can infect your devices with malware via public Wi-Fi, especially if you have file sharing enabled over Wi-Fi. You can also be tricked into inadvertently downloading malware.
How to Keep Safe on Hotel Wi-Fi
You can do several things to keep yourself safe when using hotel Wi-Fi:
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a safe tunnel through which you can anonymously access the internet. The VPN logs you in via virtual locations, masks your IP address and location, making it harder for a hacker to trace your location. You can enable VPN on several devices at the same time, which ensures you are safe, regardless of which of your device’s logs in.
Select the most secure settings on your devices and computers. Turn off all features that allow the tools to connect automatically to available Wi-Fi networks. You can also turn off the Bluetooth option.
Update Apps and Software
Ensure you update all your apps and software. Most people tend to ignore updates when they pop up on our screens. Software updates provide fixes for new bugs and vulnerabilities. You can also install anti-virus and anti-malware software to all your devices, which warn you before you download any malware.
Before you travel, change your passwords, especially if you know you will log into sensitive accounts such as banking, email, or social media accounts. Change the passwords to complex alphanumerical accounts before you travel, and change them once more when you get back home.
Avoid using obvious passwords such as pet names or birth dates. Ensure the password is easy for you to remember, and if you have trouble remembering, use a password manager. The password manager generates random and unique passwords every time you log in.
Use the multi-factor authentication option, ensuring a second code is sent to a trusted device before logging in. You can also make use of biometric authentication such as fingerprint or facial recognition logins.
Avoid Sensitive Sites
If you can, avoid logging in to online accounts that store sensitive information. This includes financial accounts, health provider sites, retail websites, and social media or email accounts. If these sites are hacked, it could lead to loss of money and identity theft.
Hotel Wi-Fi networks are not safe, no matter the illusion they might try to create. Imagine how many people use that Wi-Fi network. This should convince you this is nothing but a public system, and available networks are not safe. Take the necessary measures such as avoiding logging into sensitive sites such as banks, or using a VPN to protect your devices. All in all, common sense is also applicable while dealing with Wi-Fi networks.