Guarding Against Cyberthreats: The Most Common Attacks and How to Prevent Them

For any meeting planner or attendee who watches the evening news or reads a major newspaper, it’s well known that cybersecurity breaches have become a regular occurrence, often carrying with them severe consequences. So it’s surprising, experts say, that planners and attendees do not fully comprehend the unique vulnerabilities they face at an offsite event. And given the constantly rising level of the threat, the experts say, they become more aware and better prepared.

At the center of the issue for meeting planners and hosts is the simple fact that hotel Wi-Fi networks are infamously vulnerable. “If you’re logging into a hotel’s Wi-Fi network, that really opens you up for something to happen,” says Vivian Marinelli, senior director of crisis management services at consulting and research firm FEI Behavioral Health in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Her expert advice: Never use a hotel’s free Wi-Fi network for a meeting or event. “Most people believe it is secure,” she says. “And it is not.” The irony, of course, is that free Wi-Fi has been among the most in demand amenities requested by budget-conscious meeting planners ever since the recession of 2008–09. And today, free Wi-Fi is increasingly available — and risky.

Last year, security firm Cylance discovered and exposed the serious vulnerability in some models of the commonly used ANTLabs InnGate Internet router found in hotels around the world. In some cases, Cylance found that the router was integrated with the hotel’s property management system (PMS), meaning a hacker could strike gold with all data in the hotel’s information system, including credit card numbers and the property’s door-locking system.

ANTLabs released a security patch soon after Cylance released its report. But, says Cylance’s Irvine, California based security researcher Brian Wallace, “We did not receive a copy of the patch from ANTLabs to verify that it’s actually valid.”

Of course, such a revelation raises an obvious question: Why can hotels not eradicate the risks of hacking? And the answer is disappointing, if not surprising. “In general,” Marinelli says, “the hackers are always going to be smarter.”

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