Vice President, Global Consumer Marketing Gary is the worldwide marketing lead for McAfee Consumer, Mobile ...
Earlier this year, a software developer found some serious security holes in common keycard locks found in 4-5 million hotel rooms worldwide. Although his technique wasn’t completely refined, the idea inspired thousands of hackers to perfect the method. Now, just as holiday travel season kicks off, a slew of break-ins in Texas are being linked to this lock vulnerability, many targeting valuable devices such as laptops and tablets.
One Key to Unlock Them All
To understand how these locks work (and how they can be hacked), you can think of your hotel lock as a doorman. For the doorman to let you in, you need a password – the password stored in the keycard given to you by the hotel front desk. When you swipe your keycard, the doorman verifies that your password is correct, and the door opens.
Hackers take advantage of this system by creating a gadget that can essentially read the doorman’s mind. For about $50, hackers build a device that plugs into the power port under your hotel lock (if you run your fingers under your lock, you’ll be able to feel the port if it’s there). Once plugged in, the gadget retrieves the correct password, and the hotel door opens.
What is particularly unsettling about these hacks is that they’re cheap, easy, fast, and effective. The gadget is small, it can be disguised as a harmless object like a marker, and it can unlock a door in the blink of an eye. With attractive payoffs like laptops and other expensive devices left in hotel rooms, it’s not hard to see how this vulnerability could pose a serious threat to travelers.
Staying Secure While Away: How to Prevent Device Loss and Theft
In a recent Intel survey, 77% of respondents ranked losing their laptop while traveling as more stressful than losing their wedding ring, and 62% were actively worried about losing a laptop or having it stolen. There’s no question that our devices have become an integral part of our lives, and there are a couple basic, easy steps that can protect your information from device loss and theft while traveling.
1. Keep valuables out of plain sight.
Even if a thief does break into your hotel room, their skills can only go so far. During your hotel stay, store devices in a safe if the hotel provides you one. This adds a second layer of protection that thieves (and even skilled hackers) are unlikely to crack. This best practice will also protect you from crimes of opportunity; leaving an expensive laptop in plain sight while hotel room staff comes in and out is always a recipe for trouble.
2. Back up your data.
Before you hit the road, back up your data in the cloud or on a device that stays at home. This includes anything you would be sad to lose in the event of device loss or theft – family photos, business information, a copy of your senior thesis, etc. Many solutions out there can schedule these data backups for you.
3. Add contact information to your lock screens.
While thieves are certainly out there, there are many good people who find lost phones and do want to return them to their owners. This can be extremely difficult if you’ve followed security best practices and enabled a screen lock. To help out, list a phone number or an email account on your lock screen where a Good Samaritan can contact you if they find your device.
4. If your device goes missing, track it down with geo-tracking software.
One particularly useful feature of many new devices is internal GPS. By enabling tracking solutions, you can locate your lost device on a map. This can help determine whether your device was stolen or simply misplaced.
5. If the device is gone for good, wipe it for good.
If you’re 100% certain that you device was stolen or lost forever, pull a James Bond move and tell it to self-destruct before anyone can steal your information. Software like McAfee Mobile Security can accomplish this task by sending a “kill pill” message to remotely delete all data on your device’s memory.
Solutions like McAfee Mobile Security that offer functionality like automatic data backup, remote data wipes, and geo-tracking are certainly an important way to protect mobile devices while on the go. These capabilities are also available with McAfee All Access, which protects your PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets. Still, the best step you can take is to stay aware of your surroundings. Whether you’re at the airport or the hotel, if something looks suspicious, report it. Keep valuables locked up and out of sight, and stay up-to-date on the latest threats and preventative measures.
For more on this topic, I hope you’ll check out the Intel infographic below, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @McAfeeConsumer.