Saturday, May 12, 2012

Were hotel networks ever safe?

Recently, the FBI put out this warning to travelers about using hotel internet connections.  Basically the warning says that people have found malicious code on their laptops after hooking up to hotel provided internet connections.  Apparently the people encountered popups when setting up their initial connections telling them some program on their computer needed an update.  So once the user agreed to allow the update, they got nailed with the malware.  The warning is kind of vague on details.  No mention of what the users were told to update.  No mention of what specific malware was involved.  No mention of where or how often this occurred.  But it does say to be careful when performing updates when traveling.

My first thought when I read this was why would anyone even think to do updates via a hotel connection?  Ok, really my first thought was who still uses hotel internet, but then I remembered that I actually did when I was at RSA this year.  I almost left the laptop at home, but figured it would work better than my phone for looking stuff up (restaurant menus) and keeping up with news and weather.  Turns out I didn't use it much at all.  Seemed like whenever I got back to the room there was a Storage Wars marathon on, so I got distracted.  But when I did have the laptop connected, I was running an image that I could reset each time.  Not foolproof, but a little safer.  And I really didn't have anything important on the laptop to begin with.  Plus I was really hoping I would run into something like this that I could snapshot and mess around with later on.

Anyhow, back to the update thing.  I guess I can maybe see how people could fall for something like this, especially if they thought the update was needed to get the connection.  Still best to be cynical though, and just not believe any popups offering anything on a public network.  Probably even better not to do anything important on hotel or public networks in the first place.  Don't go to sites that require you to log in.  Definitely don't go to any banking or financial web sites.  You never really know what is going on or who has access to what you are doing.  Wi-fi connections could be unsecured, allowing anyone in the area to watch your traffic and pick out good stuff like passwords or account numbers.  Then there was news last month about a hotel chain injecting ads into web pages accessed via their network. So not only could the ads be annoying, but they could also be another avenue to receive malicious code.  I think the laptop is going to stay at home from now on.