Skip to content

Hotel Wi-Fi: Riskier Than You Realize

Hotel Wi-Fi is a standard service for travelers, ensuring they remain connected during their stays. With 63% of people confirming Wi-Fi is offered before booking a room, most locations provide it now. Whether for work, communication, or entertainment, guests frequently use these networks without a second thought. But how safe are they?

Beneath the convenience of a hotel’s Wi-Fi lies a web of potential security risks. Many guests unknowingly expose themselves to dangers such as data theft and malware attacks. While taking it for granted is easy, it’s important to be careful when using any public Wi-Fi network, especially at hotels.

What Is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that allows devices like computers, smartphones, and tablets to connect to the internet using radio waves. Found in homes, businesses, and public places, it makes online activity simple across most devices. As many work and casual activities are done online, Wi-Fi networks are vital in keeping people connected.

Different Types of Hotel Wi-Fi Networks and Their Risks

Hotel Wi-Fi networks can be set up in various ways, each having its strengths, weaknesses, and risks involved. Here’s a look at some common methods:

Open Network with Authentication Portal

How It Works: The network doesn’t require a password to connect, but users must provide additional information like name and room number on a login page.

Security Risk: While this method somewhat restricts access, the connection itself is still unsecured, leaving data transmissions vulnerable to interception.

Secured Network with Password Protection

How It Works: Here, users need a password provided by the hotel to connect to the Wi-Fi.

Security Risk: This method offers more security than an open network, but it can still be at risk if the password is widely distributed or not changed regularly.

Network Segmentation (Per-Room or Per-Guest Networks)

How It Works: Some hotels create individual networks or VLANs for each room or guest. That restricts guests from accessing other guests’ devices.

Security Risks: This setup limits potential attackers’ scope if they gain access to one segment. While it may still be more vulnerable than a private network, it’s safer than most public ones.

Enterprise-Level Security with Personalized Access

How It Works: This method involves high-level security measures like personalized credentials for each guest, often coupled with encryption protocols.

Security Risks: It provides strong protection but may be more complex to manage and can require additional hardware and software. When set up properly, there’s much less risk for guests.

Combination of Open Network and Secured Network

How It Works: Some hotels offer two separate networks. One acts as an open network for casual browsing, and the other is secured for greater protection.

Security Risks: When offering two networks, the secure one has an additional fee in exchange for safer Wi-Fi. The open network is free but more vulnerable.

Time-Based Access Controls

Description: Access to the network may be controlled based on the check-in and check-out times, adding another layer of control.

Security Risks: While it limits access, the connection may still be risky to other checked-in guests. This method is more effective when combined with additional layers of protection.

Why Travelers Use Unsecured Hotel Wi-Fi Despite Risks

Travelers often use unsecured hotel Wi-Fi despite the risks due to convenience and to stay connected online. In fact, 7 in 10 people view Wi-Fi as more important than breakfast, parking, or even the location of their hotel. Many offer this service free of charge, and a lack of passwords for some networks means quick and easy access. That can be especially helpful for getting information in local areas, checking email, or staying connected with family and friends.

Unfortunately, that ease of use often overshadows the security risks. Many hotel guests don’t understand the security risks, such as stolen private data or malware infection. Additionally, some may underestimate the value of the information they are transmitting, thinking that their online activity is of no interest to anyone else. Others may prioritize immediate needs like navigation or communication. The combination of different factors often leads to people ignoring Wi-Fi risks.

Some Guests Use Hotel Wi-Fi to Save on Mobile Data

Around 23% of people use public Wi-Fi to reduce mobile data charges, which can quickly add up when traveling. In some regions, roaming charges can be especially expensive, costing users hundreds of dollars in a matter of days for normal usage. Trips that require hotel stays already have extra costs involved, meaning many guests are looking at ways to maximize the value of what they spend. Since most hotels offer free and easy-to-access Wi-Fi, it’s a quick fix to data usage concerns, making Wi-Fi security an afterthought.

How Attackers Can Intercept Your Personal Data

Attackers can steal personal data on unsecured Wi-Fi networks through methods such as “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) attacks or by setting up rogue Wi-Fi hotspots. In a MITM attack, the attacker can view activity on an open network, exploiting the lack of encryption. Rogue hotspots, on the other hand, copy legitimate network names to get people to connect to them, giving them greater access than a MITM attack. Both tactics can be used to steal personal data like login information or credit card details. With 44% of people using a VPN when accessing public Wi-Fi, that’s one of the best defenses against these attacks.

The Threat of Malware and Viruses on Open Networks

Malware and virus threats on open networks are an ongoing concern for hotels and other public Wi-Fi. Attacks can inject software that automatically downloads malware or viruses onto a user’s device without their knowledge. That can allow them to steal personal information, monitor user activities, or even take control of the device. The risk is especially high when downloading files or clicking on links through an unsecured connection. Unlike rogue hotspots and MITM attacks, a VPN can’t protect against this.

Spotting and Avoiding Fake Wi-Fi Networks at Hotels

Fake Wi-Fi networks can appear similar to the official hotel Wi-Fi. Travelers should be careful of networks that copy the hotel’s name but may include slight misspellings or alternate characters. Seeing more than one Hotel network isn’t always a red flag. When in doubt, ask hotel staff for their official Wi-Fi network’s exact name and connection process. If there’s more than one available network with the hotel’s name, they should have an explanation for that.

The Hotel’s Role in Providing Secure Wi-Fi Connections

Hotels need to use strong security measures to protect their guests’ online activities as part of their hospitality services. That includes using encryption, regularly updating network security, offering separate networks for guests and staff to minimize risk, and providing clear guidelines on connecting safely. Failure to prioritize these security measures can lead to a loss of trust among guests, potential legal liabilities, and even harm the hotel’s reputation. In an age where Wi-Fi connectivity is often considered a standard amenity, hotels must treat network security as a key part of guest safety.

How To Protect Yourself When Using Hotel Wi-Fi

An unsecured Wi-Fi network may be the only option when staying in hotels. And even if they offer a more secure option, it often costs an extra fee, making it unappealing. While convenient, there’s a lot of risk involved. That means it’s important that users take more steps to protect themselves better.

Use a VPN

Connect through a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your online activity. That protects your data and browsing from prying eyes.

Consider Using a Personal Hotspot

Use your phone’s wireless hotspot rather than relying on hotel Wi-Fi. Keep in mind that it does require extra mobile data.

Update and Backup Before Travel

Make sure your computer’s system and software are updated. Back up important data and have a reliable antivirus in place.

Confirm the Official Hotel Wi-Fi

Check with the hotel for the exact name of its Wi-Fi network before connecting. Only connect to the hotel’s official Wi-Fi network and avoid others.

Use Public Wi-Fi Setting

Connect using the public Wi-Fi setting and ensure auto-reconnect is disabled while on a hotel network.

Look for Secure Connections

Always check for an HTTPS connection when browsing, as indicated by the lock icon near the address bar.

Avoid Accessing Sensitive Information

Avoid visiting banking sites or sharing personal details like social security numbers. That may be viewable.

Secure Your Devices

Make any device connecting to hotel Wi-Fi non-discoverable and disable Bluetooth when not in use.

Follow Job-Related Security Measures

If teleworking, follow your employer’s security policies and procedures for wireless networking.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication

Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add more security layers to your accounts. That way, even if they steal login info, they won’t be able to access it.

Enable Login Notifications

Turn on notifications for alerts on unusual account activity. This helps you act fast if there’s a breach.

You can reduce the risks of using unsecured hotel Wi-Fi by taking extra steps. These networks are handy for travelers, but safety is key. Always prioritize internet security when on the go.

What To Do if Your Device or Account Is Hacked via Wi-Fi

If you suspect your device or account has been hacked, quick action can help reduce damage and risks. Here’s what you should do:

Avoid Forwarding Suspicious Content

If you encounter any suspected emails or files, don’t forward them. These could contain malware that could infect other devices or accounts.

Disconnect from Networks

Immediately disconnect the device from all networks, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. That can prevent the spread of malware and stops unapproved access.

Consult Corporate IT if Applicable

Contact them immediately if you are part of an organization with an IT department. Inform them of the situation and any significant changes or suspicions you have, allowing them to take necessary action.

Seek Professional Help if No IT Department

If you don’t have access to an IT department, consult with qualified third-party cybersecurity experts. They can assess the situation and guide you through proper remediation steps.

Report the Incident

Reporting cyberattacks or scams to the appropriate authorities is crucial. In the U.S., this can be done through the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Reporting the incident helps authorities track and combat cybercrime more effectively.

Monitor Accounts and Change Passwords

Watch your accounts for unusual activities. When changing passwords, use strong and different combinations. 

Do Routine Security Scans 

Use trusted antivirus software to scan for and get rid of possible threats. Scheduling them to happen automatically makes the process easier.

Stay alert for signs of potential hacking. Acting fast can help protect your personal information and online assets. Being proactive in cybersecurity and monitoring for unauthorized access lets you respond more effectively if issues arise.

Final Thoughts: Navigating Hotel Wi-Fi Safely and Smartly

The convenience of hotel Wi-Fi often creates a false sense of security. Yet, anything easy for one person to access is the same for anyone else within range. While these networks offer a way to stay connected on the go, they can also expose users to various threats, putting data and devices at risk. Awareness of those threats is crucial, especially in settings like hotels where open networks can be more susceptible to cyberattacks.

However, there’s still ways to reduce those risks. You can better protect your personal information on public networks by staying informed and using safe browsing habits. Always verify the network’s legitimacy with hotel staff, use a VPN for added security, and remain cautious about the sites you access and the information you share. By taking a few extra steps, you can ensure a safer and more comfortable stay no matter what hotel you’re at.

Is your business unsure of how to provide a safe and comfortable Wi-Fi experience for your guests? Reach out to ITonDemand for a consultation via our contact form or call us at +1 (800) 297-8293

Our Partners

Trusted by Partners Across the Country

Need IT Services? We Can Help!

ITonDemand delivers expert IT services tailored to meet your unique business needs. From cybersecurity to cloud solutions, we empower your organization to thrive in a digital world. You can rely on us for dependable support and innovative solutions.