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Beware of hotel hacking

Here are tips for safe computing on a hotel network.

When traveling with a laptop, it can be difficult to determine if a hotel network provider's level of security matches your enterprise's requirements. And that matters whether you're working out of a lobby, guest room or on a convention floor.

Salt Lake City-based STSN, which provides network security to some 900 hotels nationwide and handles a half-million guest room connections a month, plans to offer freeware to help business travelers gauge a hotel-based Internet service's security.

The simple application runs from any laptop and, once plugged into a hotel port, scans a network for vulnerabilities. It recommends whether the user should continue, be cautious or reconsider using the service.

Though a corporate VPN provides plenty of security, STSN CTO Brett Molen cautions that many machines' OSes are still vulnerable. "When someone gives you a public IP address in a hotel room, at that point you are completely open. There may not be firewall protection and, in Microsoft's OSes, file-sharing is on by default -- and that provides opportunities for attackers, too."

Molen recommends the following for business travelers:

  • Find out a hotel's ISP and what security is included with the service.
  • Turn off file sharing.
  • Run a personal firewall.
  • Test your VPN against the hotel's network for compatibility.

These tips should help keep hackers from accessing your hard drive. "And let's face it, the good stuff is on the hard drive," Molen says.

This was last published in March 2004

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