Everybody loves free Wi-Fi. It's an important factor for the connected traveler when they're choosing a hotel, and there are even websites dedicated to finding hotels with fast Wi-Fi and testing speeds. But there's a problem: it's inherently unsafe.
Hotel Wi-Fi is designed for easy and frictionless access. Devices are connecting to insecure, non-encrypted Wi-Fi networks. The bottom line is this: use hotel Wi-Fi and you may be open to scams, hacks, viruses and malicious software attacks.
What's wrong with Wi-Fi?
The very nature of Wi-Fi, with traffic from all mobile devices broadcast loudly over the airwaves, makes any public Wi-Fi network insecure. With a cheap Wi-Fi adapter and some free software anyone can listen in on all conversations your phone or laptop is having with the outside world.
In general terms hotels have not implemented a network with business class segmentation. Many hotels also do not restrict the sites that guests can view, which leaves them wide open for external people to access.
Public and hotel Wi-Fi doesn't use WPA. Any device that is connected to hotel Wi-Fi is effectively sending all data in clear-text, allowing a remote attacker to identify and extract information.
Why is hotel Wi-Fi considered especially risky?
The sophisticated security systems usually in place on corporate networks are not present on these kind of connections and it's easier for cybercriminals to execute Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) and Man-in-the-Browser (MitB) attacks due to the lowered security standard.
A 2015 report found a critical vulnerability in the ANTlabs InnGate product used by hotels, which affected 277 hotels across 29 countries. The vulnerability enabled attackers to monitor and tamper with data traffic from Wi-Fi connections and gain access to hotels' management systems.
Who's intercepting hotel Wi-Fi?
The criminal gang compromises hotel Wi-Fi networks and then waits for a victim to logon to the network, before tricking them into downloading and installing a backdoor, which in turn infects the device with spying software.
This is the 'Evil Twin' hack. Hackers set up a fake network to mirror the real, freely available one, users unwittingly connect to the fake network, and then a hacker can steal account names and passwords, redirect victims to malware sites, and intercept files.
Last year, the Darkhotel group of hackers surfaced with a new attack, aimed at exploiting hotel Wi-Fi to target business travelers staying at high-end hotels. While they have long used Trojans combined with targeted phishing attacks, their latest efforts have evolved to use the Inexsmar malware. They use multi-stage Trojans, and the group has also targeted political figures using these techniques.
Tools like the Snoopy drone and Mana can automate these attacks and target a large number of people simultaneously. They have the ability to profile your device and figure out where you live and work.
Unless your data is encrypted and sharing is turned off hackers are free to rifle through all of the data on your device or whatever is passing through your connection. The lesson is simple; assume all alien Wi-Fi networks are insecure.