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Comment : GSS says US hotel WiFi hack attack could happen in UK

IT security consultancy Global Secure Systems has warned that insecure WiFi systems installed at hotels across the UK could be hacked with embarrassing consequences, as has happened with the high-end Thompson hotel chain in the US.

"Weekend reports in the US suggest that a hacker has threatened to release a number of embarrassing emails sent and received by guests and staff at the high-end Thompson hotel chain there," said David Hobson, GSS' managing director.

"The same thing could happen in the UK, as many hotels leave their WiFi networks open - i.e. without a password - for guests to use in their rooms.

This potentially leaves the systems open to hacker incursions, and could end up with guests' emails being plastered all over the Internet," he added.

According to Hobson, the use of WiFi passwords in hotels is a relatively easy security procedure to implement, with reception staff giving out the passwords to guests as they check in.

And, he says, by changing the passwords on a regular basis, guests can be assured their online sessions, including their email interchanges, will remain private, as they should be.

"Many hotel guests use Webmail, rather than email client software, on their laptops for convenience's sakes. If a hacker gains access to an open WiFi network in the hotel, they can easily eavesdrop on the Webmail sessions, with potential embarrassing consequences for the guests and the hotel(s) concerned," he said.

The hacker threats against the Thompson hotel chain - which includes several five-star hotels in Manhattan, Beverly Hills and Washington - could result in lawsuits against the company, says Hobson, but the resultant publicity will undoubtedly put off high-spending guests from staying at the boutique hotels, with a consequent loss of revenue.

"UK hotels should now be looking to their WiFi security procedures to prevent a possible run of copycat hacker attacks on this side of the Atlantic. Using WiFi passwords isn't rocket science - it's common sense security and whilst this has highlighted one potential issue – open web mail, it also highlights issues with all open public hotspots. You need to ensure your PC/laptop is set up with personal firewalls to stop hackers bouncing off hotspots on to your hard drive!" he said.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.