Is hotel Wi-Fi safe?

6 min

In the modern world of omnipresent Internet connectivity, one of the first questions we ask upon entering any new place is often: ‘What’s the Wi-Fi password?’. We wish to stay connected when visiting friends, traveling on a train, or staying at a hotel. Statistics show that Wi-Fi availability is the most important hotel service! This began to change with the rising prevalence of LTE mobile networks, but WiFi is still more popular due to higher availability and better connection speeds. However, users need to remember that speed is not as important as safety. How trustworthy are the wireless networks offered to hotel guests? How can we protect ourselves, and from what? And how can VPN on hotel Wi-Fi help? Read on!

Can hotels see what you are browsing?

Cybersecurity rarely gives simple answers to simple questions, and this one is no exception. The hotel management provides a variety of services, including access to the Internet. They in turn take advantage of an IT company – their Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is who sets up and maintains online connectivity at hotels. As every ISP, they are capable to access all the data traffic generated both by the staff and guests – in theory. In practice, it’s very uncommon for any network admin to personally monitor the traffic of a hotel network. A police warrant might be an exception, though. So if you do not have criminal intentions, you can relax. Neither the place’s owners nor their contractors should have any reason to spy on you. They can, however, automatically monitor your activity as far as any ISP does, according to the local regulations. The goal could be targeted advertising of the resort.

The general point is that you shouldn’t worry about anyone ‘seeing’ what you browse. The local ISP or government authorities can become your concern only if your online behavior is too strange and suspicious. What you should be cautious about are data hijackers who search and exploit flaws in security systems. However, there are tools for extra protection at places you can’t trust.

Is it safe to use hotel Wi-Fi?

We carry a lot of stuff with us on every holiday to make the place we are staying at feel like home. After computers and smartphones have entered our life for good, we also travel with them. Watching Netflix or posting Instagram stories on a holiday evening is a nice way to end the day. But it requires quite a lot of data transfer, so using a local Internet connection might seem like an obvious choice. Connecting to local Wi-Fi is actually one of the first things we do after checking in at a hotel!

Business trips require even more online activities, be it for making a presentation or a video chat with your local office. Moreover, a lot of businessmen don’t allow themselves to fully relax, even on a day off. They often keep checking their email even when winding down at a hotel pool. Either way, a question arises: is it safe to connect to hotel Wi-Fi? Working in an unsecured network could jeopardize important and confidential projects!

Unfortunately, the reality of cybersecurity at resorts is harsh. From time to time, news reports about detecting alarming vulnerabilities in hotel networking systems. Some are results of manufacturing flaws, sometimes deprecated software is to blame. Don’t panic, though! The probability that your data has been or is going to be breached is low. And with appropriate precautions, you can ensure your security at reasonable costs. For example, a hotel Wi-Fi with a VPN enabled on your side can be considered fully secure.

Is it safe to use hotel Wi-Fi with an iPhone?

Mobile devices are not exempt from the risks you face on public Wi-Fi networks. You should protect your iPhone just like you would your laptop. Smartphones do have the advantage of mobile connectivity, though. Modern LTE (or 5G where available) is mostly enough for not highly data-consuming online services. So remember to disable automatic connecting to known Wi-Fis if a mobile network suffices your needs. However, the quality of service of your phone operator at a given location might be poor, especially if you stay at a hotel away from a large city. This factor is rather unpredictable, so it’s better to come up with an alternative. That is, inevitably, securing yourself inside a hotel network.

Using open and free Wi-Fi in public places is asking for trouble. Hotels often have their wireless networks properly password-protected. However, obtaining the key usually requires asking the person at a reception stand politely, and you never actually know who is your next-door neighbor or who is it sitting innocently in the lobby listening to your conversations. After accessing the network, hackers can easily monitor the inside network traffic. To avoid being snooped on, visit only websites that apply the safe HTTPS protocol. You can check it in the address bar of your browser. A sign of a closed padlock means that the page contents are encrypted when being sent to your device. Luckily, 79% of websites (and growing) use this security feature, including all the respectable portals, social media, and shopping platforms. 

However, incorporating security protocols in a website is its administrator’s responsibility. There’s nothing you can do about it, except just leave when you see the website is not using a proper security protocol. Also, remember that the above precaution applies to browsers only. Other Internet-enabled applications have different security mechanisms. Faster data transfer might be put before better security, for example for video conferences. When deciding which tool to use for confidential online calls, make sure it has the end-to-end encryption feature. It ensures the protection of all the elements of the connection, including the video stream.

Lastly, there is an increasingly popular networking technology that can put your worries aside: Virtual Private Network. Let’s get to it!

VPN on a hotel Wi-Fi

This mechanism extends beyond your browser and even beyond your computer. It is a virtual connection that takes advantage of a tunneling protocol. A tunnel metaphor here means that a dedicated app supervises and shields all your data transfer from any outside attacks. It is hidden, like buried underground. And where does the tunnel end? At a remote server, managed by your VPN provider. It serves as your gateway to the rest of the Internet.

The most basic feature of this connection is encryption. Its modern standard, used and recommended worldwide, is AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). Cracking it by brute force would take hundreds of years, so it is believed to be hack-resistant. Still, this algorithm needs to be properly implemented. Luckily, well-constructed VPN software is scrupulously tested before being released to prevent any security issues. Despite being connected via a secure ‘tunnel’ some information can still ‘leak’ outside. If you’re very sensitive about your privacy protection, learn how to test a VPN.

VPN on hotel Wi-Fi works the same as on any other network. It would be smart to choose a specific solution, install and test it before going on a trip. This is a part of modern travel preparation! And if you wish to protect your privacy in the online world, this might be an opportunity to start using a VPN every day. It is commonly used to circumvent geolocation and unblock regionally unavailable content. But it offers much more! The primary intention behind its creation was in fact to provide a secure connection to a remote network. So let’s ask a basic question:

Is it safe to use hotel Wi-Fi with VPN?

Using mobile Internet or sticking to HTTPS-enabled sites are only half-measures with definitive downsides. On the other hand, VPN makes any network as safe as possible. As a matter of fact, a VPN on a hotel Wi-Fi is the first tool of choice to protect yourself. Thanks to its security features, it prevents:

  • Attacks by nearby hackers. Regardless of what protocol your browser or emailing program uses, VPN makes all your data indecipherable to outside intruders. And they are the primary threat, as they are the people with actual malicious intentions.
  • Tracking by online entities. Changing your true IP to a fake one, assigned to the VPN server, misleads the technologies trying to monitor your online activities. Tracking is a normal behavior in many cases, but many consider it a serious invasion of their privacy. VPN helps to prevent it.
  • Monitoring your actions by ISP. At home, you can carefully read the terms of service and learn precisely how your data is managed by the provider. But you can’t expect the hotel to disclose its agreement with a local Internet company, so there is no knowing for sure if your data could be monitored or stored. In 99% of cases, there is nothing nefarious in such actions, but still, you have the right to keep your private affairs to yourself.

VPN on a hotel Wi-Fi is a simple and basic form of protecting yourself. If you’re not familiar with this technology, a trip is a chance to learn its pros by yourself. Choose the appropriate software for you and browse safely with a VPN!

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