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Be wary of that free hotel & restaurant WiFi: vendor

InfrastructureMobilitySecurity & Privacy

An IT security vendor is warning that free hotel or restaurant WiFi network you’re hoping on to grab some connectivity without eating into your cellular data plan may not be as secure as you’d like.

As a developer of security solutions such as next-generation firewalls and unified threat management solutions, WatchGuard Technologies of course has a vested interest here – it wants to sell its solutions to help those hotels, restaurants and other hospitality organizations offer more secure access by allowing the provisioning of things such as temporary user passwords.

It doesn’t mean they don’t have a point, though. A recent Hotels.com guest survey say Free WiFi rated as the top in-room amenity. Hotels are responding, but often with completely open networks – WatchGuard’s own survey found 71 per cent of global hotels, restaurants and other hospitality organizations don’t provide unique temporary user passwords for guest WiFi networks.

Knowing many smaller organizations simply don’t have the IT staff or expertise to do so, WatchGuard is touting new features that allow hospitality organizations to create their own guest login interface with branded company logos, the ability to configure options such as time limits for access, and batch-generated usernames and passwords and password-only voucher options.

Another concern is what guests are doing on the hotel or restaurant network. The same WatchGuard survey found that 51 per cent of hospitality organizations aren’t monitoring their networks for suspect applications, malware or malicious activities and 62 per cent don’t monitor guest activity to limit bandwidth-intensive applications.

“Complimentary guest Internet and WiFi network access is definitely a service that people who travel as much as I do have come to expect,” said Dave R. Taylor, vice-president of corporate strategy and product management for WatchGuard Technologies, in a statement. “WatchGuard provides the peace of mind that hospitality organizations need to feel confident that their guest network users are protected and that network security and performance won’t be compromised by uninvited guests. Our customers appreciate the increased visibility into and control over their guest wireless networks delivered by WatchGuard security appliances.”