If you travel regularly for work you may often find yourself using hotel business centers to print documents, check your email and log into your online banking account. However, the United States Secret Service is warning that doing so could actually put you at an increased risk of identity theft.
The Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) recently sent a notice to hotels across the United States, warning that a group of suspects had been arrested for hacking into business center computers in Texas.
Officials say the gang used stolen credit cards to check in as guests at major hotels in the Dallas area. They then visited the hotels' business centers, where they logged into Gmail accounts and downloaded malware.
"The key-logger malware captured the keys struck by other hotel guests that used the business center computers, subsequently sending the information via email to the malicious actors' email accounts," the release said. "The suspects were able to obtain large amounts of information including other guests' personally identifiable information, log in credentials to bank, retirement and personal webmail accounts, as well as other sensitive data flowing through the business center's computers."
In other words, whatever you see and type on a hotel computer could be completely visible to a cyber criminal, down to your online banking passcode.
Next time you find yourself in a hotel business center, resist the urge to use it for anything other than general web browsing. If you need to print a document, use your personal laptop, tablet or smartphone to forward it to a secondary email address that does not contain any of your personal information. That way, if key-logging software has been installed - and there is no way to be sure it hasn't - you are not offering up the contents of your private email account to identity thieves.
Unfortunately, this latest example of the resourcefulness of cyber criminals is just more evidence that it is becoming harder than ever to guard your privacy. There are so many ways that we can lose control of our personal data - in hotels, at ATMs or even through data breaches at major banks or retailers.
It is more important than ever that you keep a close eye on your credit. Remember that every adult in the United States is entitled to one free credit report a year from the three major credit bureaus - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
It is also a good idea to invest in a credit monitoring service. While such services cannot guarantee your protection against fraudsters, they can alert you to certain activity connected to your name that may be an indication of credit fraud. If you are made aware of the activity, then you can take action to thwart criminal activity, such as freezing all new loans and credit lines under your identity. Unfortunately, some victims of identity theft do not realize for months or even years that their personal security has been compromised. Thus, their credit may have already been significantly damaged.
You should also use different passwords for all of your accounts, so that if a hacker does obtain one they don't have access to all of your information. Each code should combine letters, numbers and symbols in a unique and difficult-to-guess combination that does not use any real names or words. Try using a password manager to store your various codes in a secure, easy-to-use digital vault.