Hotel internet an open door for hackers

A fake Flash update pop-up window.
A fake Flash update pop-up window. 

Have you ever downloaded a software update from your hotel room or a coffee shop? If your answer is yes, then you may have been hacked

According to an alert issued by the Internet Crime Complaint Centre, which is affiliated to the FBI in the US, hackers are now targeting travellers using hotel internet connections.

In the alert issued yesterday, the ICCC says that hotel and other 'public' internet connections that travellers and tourist use are often easy targets for hackers and scammers because security was usually poor.

In its Global Security Report for 2012, security company Trustwave found that hotel internet connections were easy targets for hackers because security was often lax.

"Recent analysis from the FBI and other government agencies demonstrates that malicious actors are targeting travellers abroad through pop-up windows while establishing an internet connection in their hotel rooms," the ICCC said in its alert.

Because hotels were often franchises, with the same system used in different hotels, and even in different countries and continents, the hackers could hack one connection and then apply that to all the other sites.

What made it worse what that Trustwave found that one of the most common passwords used was "password1" because it met the security requirements of many systems, including Microsoft's Active Directory identity management software.

Once in the hotel's system, the hackers upload malware that appears as a common and innocent-looking software update.

The hotel guest logs on and a pop-up window appears offering a familiar update that is actually malware.

"Recently, there have been instances of travellers' laptops being infected with malicious software while using hotel internet connections," the ICCC said.

"In these instances, the traveller was attempting to setup the hotel room internet connection and was presented with a pop-up window notifying the user to update a widely-used software product.

"If the user clicked to accept and install the update, malicious software was installed on the laptop. The pop-up window appeared to be offering a routine update to a legitimate software product for which updates are frequently available."

However, it's not only hotel internet connections that hackers are targeting — other franchises such as coffee chains and restaurants that have public Wi-Fi connections are also easy targets.

In the key findings of its report, Trustwave said the food and beverage industry made up the highest percentage of its investigations — nearly 44 per cent.

"Industries with franchise models are the new cyber targets: more than a third of 2011 investigations occurred in a franchise business," Trustwave said.

The FBI says travellers should take steps to protect their computers, and the obvious first one is to wait until you get home or back to the office to download that software update.

"The FBI recommends that all government, private industry, and academic personnel who travel abroad take extra caution before updating software products on their hotel internet connection," the ICCC alert says.

"Checking the author or digital certificate of any prompted update to see if it corresponds to the software vendor may reveal an attempted attack. The FBI also recommends that travellers perform software updates on laptops immediately before travelling, and that they download software updates directly from the software vendor's website if updates are necessary while abroad."

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