US Secret Service warns of keyloggers on public hotel computers

US Secret Service warns of keyloggers on public hotel computers

Summary: Hotels that offer business centers, equipped with PCs and other office machinery, are being targeted by hackers, the US Secret Service warns.

TOPICS: Security
(Image via Brian Krebs)

The US Secret Service has warned users of hotel business centers that public PCs may be targeted by hackers, with the intent on stealing personal and business information.

An advisory posted by the service, in collaboration with the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) warned that the hospitality sector, notably hotels, is particularly vulnerable to attackers intent on pilfering sensitive information.

A joint-notice was issued by the two agencies after arrests were made in the Dallas and Forth Worth, Texas areas, of suspects who were able to compromise computers in several major hotel chains, according to security expert Brian Krebs.

To wit, the notice read:

"The keylogger malware captured the keys struck by other hotel guests that used the business center computers, subsequently sending the information via email to the malicious actors’ email accounts...

...The suspects were able to obtain large amounts of information including other guests personally identifiable information (PII), log in credentials to bank, retirement and personal webmail accounts, as well as other sensitive data flowing through the business center's computers."

The notice warned that the attacks were "not sophisticated" and required "little technical skill," and did not involve exploiting browsers, operating systems, or other software.

Long are the days where financial data was the be-all and end-all. Hackers are not always intent on skimming credit cards for bank data — though, it's a short-term reward. Malicious actors who target hotel business centers are more interested in corporate data.

While keyloggers may send many minds back to the early-2000s, they still exist in a number of shapes and forms. According to Krebs, the good-intentioned advice of the notice, such as restricting a user's login to a non-administrator's account may not foil today's advanced keylogger malware. 

That said, a number of operating systems now — notably Windows 7 and above, which are still in regular use in hotel lobbies and business centers — come with clean-slate functionality, to allow administrators to wipe clean machines and restore a saved state at any time.

Some versions of Linux already feature a no-save state, which prevents any data from being written to the disk — meaning users can browse the Web and leave nothing installed on the machine, foiling the advances of any repeat-offending malware.

Topic: Security

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Hadn't thought of it...

    ...but it makes sense. It's probably safer to use one's own laptop then a hotel computer.
    John L. Ries
  • I didn't know people still used those

    I didn't know people still used those in the cheap laptop era. Maybe if you need to print something.
    Buster Friendly
    • Boarding Pass

      That's a big one.
      • I used the kiosk

        I just check-in from my laptop and then drop by a kiosk at the airport to print it. That's lets you get a boarding group on Southwest.
        Buster Friendly
  • Managed systems are not typically vulnerable

    Hotel lobby systems that are not managed by a third party, such as Uniguest (my employer), are vulnerable to such attacks, and hotel staff are not typically trained on cyber security, so even though Windows includes some features to swipe user data, it's rarely done. Our business centers, called U-Connect, are designed to prevent executable files from running, lock down areas in the OS typically exploited by hackers, and wipe all session data upon logout. It's unfortunate that people are having to deal with this type of issue, but solutions do exist to take the responsibility of keeping guests' info safe off the shoulders of hotels and their staff.
    • Looks like an ad

      But fair enough. I think it would be better if hotel business center systems were managed by their own dedicated sysadmins (I've long been suspicious of long-term outsourcing), but either way, the work needs to be done by full time professionals, not as a sideline by managers or other employees.

      And if a business center is busy enough to justify its existence, then I don't think it's a huge financial burden to have an on site system administrator (probably shared with the office) who can give the equipment the proper attention, maintain the network, test the security, and serve as guru to guests and office staff alike. But at the very least, there should be an administrator available at least by telephone every minute the business center is open. And if the business center isn't busy enough to justify at least that, then close it.
      John L. Ries
  • Some competition

    More to truth is that the US Secret Secret complaining about the competition and interference from hackers on their turf.
  • Really...

    "Stop thief", cried the thief
  • Well...

    the NSA must keep a database of all of the machines they have infected, so they should know best. ;-)
  • Keylogger

    yes, we should be careful when we use computer in public. It is so easy to leak out our information. Keyloggers like Aobo Keylogger for Mac is just a kind of app.