How to protect your data when using guest WiFi

January 7, 2019

When working away from your normal office, a hotel stay is often inevitable – and that means using the hotel WiFi to stay in touch.

The hotel industry is one of the top sectors to suffer data breaches– it’s a cyber criminal’s dream with the amount of information hotels potentially hold about you: your name, address, passport details, car registration plates and credit card details to name but a few. And that’s before you even check in! 

Once checked in, you connect to the WiFi network and are required to enter personal details. Where does this data get collected? Most Guest WiFi access has software that sits behind the access points and stores all this information. The repercussions, if a cybercriminal gains access to the backend, can be potentially catastrophic.

So, what can you do to protect yourself when travelling and needing to access hotel and other public WiFi spots?

Tethering via your mobile

Public WiFi networks are rarely secure and often used by hackers to gather data they shouldn’t. We recommend, wherever possible, to connect to the internet via your mobile phone. Use your data allowance, and the security built into your phone, instead of a public network. Mobile data is becoming cheaper and cheaper:

  • Vodafone has a 20Gb data SIM only contract for £20 per month
  • O2 are selling 32Gb of data for £26 per month

The only issue comes when you cannot get a decent signal, most likely due to the structure of the building.

Use a VPN connection

If you cannot get a secure internet connection, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection is the next best thing. This allows you to connect to your company network by creating a secure “tunnel” between your laptop and your network. This stops others from accessing your data.

To create a VPN, talk to your IT department. They are likely to have their preferred software application for this, or if you want to use the Windows VPN tool, you will need to know the names and IP addresses of the server(s) you wish to connect to.

Use RFID Shields

Public places, such as hotels, are great hunting grounds for thieves looking for card data. They can easily steal your card information by skimming. With near-field communication (NFC) technology, they don’t even have to get hold of the card anymore; simply get close to it.  Passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) protection comes in the form of a shield (credit card sized) that slides into your wallet next to your cards or there are now wallets with this tech built into the material. More active solutions, using other radio frequencies, will actively block the signal used by the skimmers.

Don’t be discovered

When you do log into a public WiFi, it will sometimes ask you if you wish to be discovered, or visible, to others on the network. Always say No. While you’re at it, turn off file and print sharing so that nobody can send or receive files from you across the WiFi.

Don’t leave them alone

You’re in a hotel, or coffee shop, and you need the loo. You’re only going to be gone a couple of minutes. Your devices will be safe…. Won’t they? Do you really want to take the risk? Take them with you. It is inconvenient, but it’s far less inconvenient that explaining to your boss that there’s been a data breach and they have to report it to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) with 72 hours.

GDPR and data security have only made it more important to protect your data. However, the biggest issue is not the fines or the paperwork; it’s the loss of your company’s intellectual property and the loss of trust from your clients that will hurt the most. None of these steps are difficult with a little forethought, so let’s ensure your data is safe – and you have a great trip.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Ianiri is Director of independent telecoms brokerage Equinox. Mike works with companies, charities and other organisations to help them choose the right telecoms packages for their needs and thereby reduce their costs. He is particularly knowledgeable on the integration of IT and telecoms in business.  www.equinoxcomms.co.uk

Twitter: @CommsEquinox

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