Think twice before pulling up personal information online from a hotel room or coffee shop

Cale Guthrie Weissman

Abundant Wi-Fi is one of the best 21st century conveniences. But while the ease of an open hotspot may be enticing, be careful: Hackers are constantly looking for vulnerable access points intercept data.

Earlier today we reported on a huge internet vulnerability plaguing the hospitality world. Networking equipment often used by hotel chains had a gaping security hole that allowed hackers to gain access into the network and monitor and tamper with any traffic that flowed through. Anyone who used the hotels' Wi-Fi stood the chance of having their traffic intercepted.

We asked the security expert behind this finding, Justin W Clarke, if he thought this meant that all hotel Wi-Fi networks are a hot-bed for nefarious cybercrime.

He wouldn’t go so far. Clarke is a researcher that sees vulnerabilities like these all the time. This week's discovery, while frightening, is an example of the need for security diligence, and for businesses to ensure their infrastructure is secure.

“The reality,” Clarke said, “is that there’s no perfect way to access the internet.” He added that personally he would think twice before checking his bank account at a hotel or cafe. This gets at a critical point most people overlook.

This week's finding isn't about hotels per se; it's about the freewheeling nature people have when they surf the web. People quite often share their data in potentially unsecure environments.

On the extreme opposite end, some individuals may use separate computers only to check their financial information.

There's a middle-point, where people are more mindful of if their data can get intercepted. It's probably wise to not log personal information unless you're absolutely sure about security. Unless you are in your own private network, it’s hard to be sure where your data is going. 

Additionally, there are safeguards users can adopt to further protect themselves. People can use a virtual private networks (VPNs) to encrypt their traffic. In fact, that’s what many security experts — including Clarke — do when using public hotspots. 

Use common sense. Just think: What am I accessing right now? Is it private? Is my network private? Would it be bad if a third-party could intercept this traffic? Then proceed.

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