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Is it safe to use hotel Wi-Fi? Hotel network security explained

To many, free Wi-Fi in hotels is a blessing. From looking up museums to picking a place for dinner, having a reliable internet connection is a must for any traveler. But when you use these publicly available hotspots, do you ever stop to consider the possible threats?

Is it safe to use hotel Wi-Fi? Hotel network security explained

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Is hotel Wi-Fi safe?

Like all Wi-Fi networks, hotel Wi-Fi is only as safe as its owners make it. Unfortunately, many hotels don’t secure their networks, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks like man-in-the-middle and other eavesdropping techniques. Cybercriminals are more likely to target hotel Wi-Fi users because most guests are traveling and tend to be more relaxed and forgetful when on vacation.

Hotel Wi-Fi security: what makes it unsafe?

Several factors should be considered when talking about Wi-Fi in hotels:

  • Network encryption. Many hotel Wi-Fi networks do not sufficiently encrypt the data you send over the network, allowing anyone with the right tools to intercept it. Currently, the most secure system is WPA3, but some hotels set up their networks a long time ago and forgot to update their encryption methods. It makes their guests easy targets for cybercriminals.
  • Old hardware. Unfortunately, many hotel owners are fond of the “if it’s not broken, why fix it?” mentality. But if the hotel set up its Wi-Fi network in 2010, for example, the routers are severely out of date by now and won’t support the latest security updates.
  • Widely available passwords. Attackers can set up fake Wi-Fi networks with a name identical to the hotel’s real one and use the same password so the users are able to connect to it with the password they got during check-in. Guests may think they are safe, but in reality, a hacker is now able to infiltrate the connected device and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.

What are the hotel Wi-Fi security risks?

Attackers can use IP spoofing, eavesdropping, DNS spoofing, SSL hijacking, and other methods to listen in on your activity or alter your connection. Here’s what might happen:

  • Data theft. Poor hotel Wi-Fi security puts your data at risk. Hackers can steal your credentials, lock you out of your accounts, and demand a ransom. They may also steal your banking, crypto wallet, or credit card information and make payments to themselves.
  • Malware installs. A cybercriminal can infect your device with different kinds of malware and use it to steal your data, spy on you, or for further large-scale cyberattacks.
  • Reputation loss. If you access business accounts from your device, your personal data is not the only thing at stake. Your coworkers and clients might get their data stolen too, and then you will have a serious PR crisis on your hands.

7 ways to stay safe on hotel Wi-Fi

You can implement various security measures to keep yourself safe while using Wi-Fi in hotels:

  1. Use a VPN — it’s the fastest and most effective way to secure your traffic on any public Wi-Fi. A VPN encrypts your internet connection, making it difficult for hackers to intercept and read your data.
  2. Enable a firewall — most operating systems have it built in. It helps protect your device from malicious internet traffic — just make sure your firewall is enabled before connecting to a public network.
  3. Avoid making sensitive transactions if possible. Wait until you are using a secure private hotspot to make financial transactions and log in to sensitive accounts.
  4. Secure your accounts with strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. Learn how to create strong passwords and change them on all your accounts.
  5. Use additional security software. You can use NordVPN’s Threat Protection Pro to help you avoid malware. It will block your access to malicious websites and scan the files you’re downloading and delete them if malware is found.
  6. Double-check which network you’re connecting to. If you are not sure which Wi-Fi hotspot is the right one, ask the hotel staff. This way, you’ll avoid connecting to rogue networks set up by attackers.
  7. Consider using mobile data to access sensitive accounts. Paying for roaming might prove less expensive than dealing with cybercriminals. You can also get an eSIM if your phone supports it for cheaper local data plans, as eSIM security measures offer additional protection against unauthorized access.
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