This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on January 13, 2016.
Since many hotels and resorts now offer complimentary Wi-Fi access to all guests which is great, but can also cause security concerns. If you are planning a trip and want to use Wi-Fi during your vacation, make sure you’re protected from hackers and identity thieves.
Whether travelers are logging on to send emails, learn more about the area, or to update their social media accounts — MDG Advertising reports 74 percent of social media users check their social sites while traveling.
Even though you may be logging in over the hotel’s secure network, there’s still a risk that your information will be compromised. Here are some things you should know about using Wi-Fi safely at hotels and resorts.
How Hotel Internet Networks Work
Once you log in to the network at your hotel or resort, you will have access to the Internet just like other hotel guests and employees at the hotel. However, your Internet activity may be accessible to anybody that hacks the network.
HowtoGeek.com explains how hotel networks make it very easy for people to snoop on other users’ activities: “Open Wi-Fi networks — that is, Wi-Fi networks can connect to without entering a passphrase — are open to snooping. Because these networks aren’t secured with encryption, all data sent over them is sent in “plaintext”.”
What this means is all of your browsing history — whether you are playing games on Facebook, researching nightclubs in the area, or making dinner reservations — is visible and accessible to anybody who taps in to the network. This type of visibility isn’t limited to just the hotel or resort where you are staying. Guests at neighboring hotels or people working nearby who have access to the hotel’s open network can also log in and take a peek.
But, I Have a Password
Even though you may be set up with a private password to log on to the Internet, Wi-fi networks at most hotels aren’t really all that private.
Many hotels and resorts make you log in through a ‘captive network’ where you enter a special passcode and your hotel room number to authenticate yourself as a user. This may feel like a layer of encryption and give you a sense of safety, but the truth is you are still connecting to the Internet over an open Wi-Fi network. Any web pages you visit that do not start with ‘https’ are visible to anybody who is tapping in to the network.
Protecting Your Passwords
When you are searching for free Wi-Fi hotels on Hipmunk, you will see hotels with this amenity have a ‘free Wi-Fi’ icon next to their name. This makes it easy to filter out search results and pick out hotels that offer the key amenities you are looking for. You can contact the hotel directly to find out what the process of logging in to their network involves, and whether they issue different passwords to each guest. Having a private, custom password to log in with throughout your trip can reduce the risk of identity theft. Ask the hotel if you can reset your password yourself so you have more control.
Another way to protect your passwords is to be mindful of which sites you are logging in to, then changing your passwords as soon as you leave the hotel. For example, you’ll want to change all of your login information for Facebook, Gmail, and other popular sites so that in the event that somebody did steal your login information, they will no longer have access to your key accounts. The same goes for any bank or other important accounts that you may have accessed throughout your trip.
Preventing Fraud and Identity Theft While Surfing
One of the best things you can do to prevent identity theft is to make sure you are entering secure sites any time you are accessing your email, social media sites, or anywhere that requires you to log in to your account. You can check the browser bar to make sure the site you are entering starts with ‘https’ and look for the small ‘lock’ icon that indicates the site is encrypted. Encryption means that any passwords or information you send and receive will be scrambled, so there is no way to decipher what was sent.
Another thing you can do is to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so you are creating your own secure Internet connection regardless of where you are logging in from. You can get started with any of these five highly recommended VPN service providers from lifehacker.com. These services make it easy for you to protect your privacy and security by encrypting all traffic between your computer and the service. Everything you do online is completely anonymous and untraceable so nobody will be able to collect data on you.
Whether you choose to stay at a chain hotel or a locally-owned property, finding free Wi-Fi hotels can help you offset some of the costs of your trip. However, you need to be mindful of your internet habits and make sure you are taking steps to prevent cyber security threats.