Read this before you log in to a hotel WLAN on vacation

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When people of our generation check into a hotel, this question is usually particularly important to them: “What is the WLAN password? After all, we don’t want to get a giant cell phone bill after a holiday or business trip and still don’t want to miss anything. There has been an article at https://www.zeit.de about it too.

But even less do we want to become victims of criminals. And as Chief Inspector of the Baden-Württemberg State Criminal Police Office explained in an interview, these two needs cannot always be reconciled.  You can also sit down naked on a park bench during your holidays. We talked about WLAN, especially in hotels and so-called “free hotspots“. And if you continue reading, you will probably see the question of the WLAN password and its use more critically in the future. Because then you’ll know what dangers they expose you to.

When your mobile phone, tablet or notebook connects to a WLAN, it usually checks automatically whether a new e-mail has arrived. To do this, it sends the login information, i.e. user name and password, via the router to the network. The same happens when you open an app.

You lose control over sensitive data.

The fact that you need a password to access the hotel WLAN does not necessarily mean that you have control over the data you send via this WLAN. The fact is that the data is easier to access on the way from the mobile phone to the router. Of course, hotels are usually not malicious, but who tells you that the hotel’s router has not been compromised by anyone?

“Fraudsters are now even setting up WLAN networks near hotels that have a similar name to the hotel’s own WLAN”. So it may be possible for someone to log on to this data and then log on to your e-mail account, for example.

You are at risk of identity theft or financial damage

You’re probably thinking, “What could happen if someone reads my e-mails? They don’t interest anyone.” But you surely have an Amazon account or shop online somewhere else. If someone has access to your email account, they can “kick you out” by simply changing your password.

Now he searches through your mails in peace and probably finds some confirmation mail from an online shop where you have made purchases. By clicking on the link “Forgot password” he can create a new one, so that you lose access to your “shopping account”. Now the perpetrator can enter a new delivery address and order whatever he wants at your expense.

Strangers can do a lot on your Facebook page

He could also post things on your behalf on social networks that you use that embarrass you in front of your contacts or draw their anger from you. Online banking from external WLAN networks is just as critical, of course, even if, for example, the TANs for any actions usually come as SMS on the smartphone. However, sensitive data is not necessarily secure.

“If you send your data via an unknown router, you can also sit naked on a park bench”. “In most cases, this is completely unnecessary. Since roaming charges have fallen in Europe, most people have been able to use their normal data flat rate on holiday anyway. The data connection between the smartphone and your provider is usually secure.

“If you send your data via an unknown router, you can sit naked on a park bench.”

Simple instructions from the Internet

If you do not have a data flat rate, or if you are in a country where roaming charges still apply, you should use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This sounds complicated, but it’s not. On the net you will find a lot of information on how this works. Your data is encrypted and you can surf without hesitation.

By the way, he recommends that you switch off the setting that allows a mobile phone to automatically connect to any free WLAN. Especially on vacation, but ideally in general. “You don’t have to get paranoid,” he says. “We don’t automatically assume that every open WLAN has negative intentions. But of course it’s always a certain uncertainty factor.”

Hotel’s own computers are no better

The same applies to free computers, which are often found in hotel lobbies. You should never log into online banking or your e-mail inbox there. If you can’t avoid it, you should at least clear your browser’s cache before logging out. It is also safer to surf in “incognito mode” and only log on to encrypted websites. You can recognize this by the fact that the URL starts with “https” instead of “http”.

“I would never connect external media such as USB sticks to such computers,” says the LKA expert. Because in this way one can easily carry on a Trojan that has landed on the computer without the hotel’s knowledge.

If you follow this advice, you will protect yourself from data theft or worse. Your mobile phone bill could be a bit higher if you don’t use a free WLAN. But you’re not responsible for what criminals do under your name.