For those who’ve wondered before if hotel WiFi is safe for banking, the quick and easy answer is “no.” Aside from the safety factor, there is little to no hotel WiFi privacy. Since travel time almost always includes a stay at these locations, you need to be prepared to secure your Internet connection.
The issue of digital safety and privacy isn’t just about hotels, but at multiple points during your travels. Chances are you might use WiFi at the airport, a cafe along the way, or even one in the destination country; it’s a general problem with public WiFi.
Why Hotel WiFi Isn’t Safe for Banking?
Hotel WiFi is generally unencrypted. Yes, they might implement some form of password protection, but that’s mostly there to ensure only guests use their bandwidth. The problem is that guests don’t typically have high levels of technical skills.
On the other hand, hackers often have access to a wide array of skills and tools that can easily overcome the basic security measures implemented. Even worse is that compromised hotel WiFi isn’t even typically detected. That can spell disaster for you if you try to log onto your online bank account.
If you think about it, many hotels even use elementary credentials like the room number and a single password for the entire hotel.
What Can Go Wrong on Hotel WiFi?
While they might provide the perfect creature comforts of home or some business amenities, securing the WiFi they provide is generally not on their list of expert skills. Many things can go wrong when WiFi security lapses happen.
Credit Card Numbers Get Stolen
Imagine you’re sitting in your hotel room and making a booking for your next destination or perhaps even a tour. As you’re happily dreaming of relaxing plans, you key in your credit card number to make a payment. Meanwhile, hackers are secretly recording all those details.
Account Credentials May be Compromised
If you think that your credit card information is the only thing at risk, thing at stake, that’s sadly far from the truth. Once you key in your credentials for your email account, online banking system, or even company servers, that too gets taken.
People Can Track Your Location
There are many simple tools that hackers can use to pinpoint your location. Once you log on to any website, hackers will know and be able to forecast your plans. That can result in targeting for robbery or worse as you continue your journey.
Devices May Get Compromised
Once your device connects to hotel WiFi, you’re essentially linked to all other devices worldwide. Without proper safety precautions, that means hackers can also get access to your device. That may result in the planting of malware and even the theft of your device data.
These risks aren’t just theoretical either. There have been many incidents proving hotel WiFi and privacy weaknesses;
- In Singapore, a Chinese security researcher hacked and exposed passwords for a hotel’s internal network.
- Russian hackers exploited weak hotel WiFi to snoop on targets in multiple locations.
- Hilton, Hyatt, and InterContinental hotels saw their WiFi used to skim for corporate data.
- Marriot International experienced an internal network breach resulting in the loss of massive amounts of data.
5 Tips to Stay Safe on Hotel WiFi
1. Use a VPN
While the risks are certainly there, it simply isn’t plausible to altogether avoid hotel WiFi. Don’t worry though, taking the proper precautions can help you mitigate the risk. The best way to stay safe while traveling and staying in hotels is by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
These handy tools help increase security and privacy in many ways. By connecting to secure servers, you reduce the risk of device and data tracking. At the same time, the VPN will encrypt any data flowing in or out of your device.
Yet, that isn’t all that a VPN can do for you. VPNs also allow you to overcome geolocation blocks so you can access all your favorite apps and streaming services while you’re on the go. You can watch Netflix US content, for example, even while you’re in a hotel room in South Korea.
Is VPN Safe for Online Banking?
Yes, VPNs are safe for online banking. They are an important defense against hackers as a VPN creates a secured data tunnel to the VPN server that anonymizes all connections to the internet. Be aware though that bank systems are quite sensitive to technology like VPN and may block you if they think you’re using one. It’s simply part of their security profile.
2. Use an Internet Security Application
Internet Security applications combine antivirus protection with some network defense features. These generally include WiFi protection, an application firewall, and possibly some data encryption.
3. Connect to the Correct Network
In your hotel room, you may find there are dozens of WiFi networks listed. Make sure you connect to the right one with the credentials provided by the hotel staff. Avoid trying to connect to unknown networks at all costs.
4. Check Your Network Settings
Home networks are listed as private on your PC settings. This setting allows trusted devices to share data. If you’re on an untrusted network like Hotel WiFi, make sure your network setting is on the “Public” setting.
5. Make Sure You Enable MFA if Possible
Many websites and services (especially banks) will enable you to use Multi-factor Authentication (MFA). If this is available, make sure you use it. MFA helps you stay safer by requiring more than one means of identity authentication.
Final Thoughts: Always be Careful on Public WiFi
The dangers listed here are far from being unique to hotels. However, we often take for granted the security levels at these establishments, especially upscale ones. As you can see, even the most prominent hotels can fall victim to hack attacks, mainly due to network issues.
Ensure you protect yourself on your travels, especially if you need to access your bank accounts digitally.