Protecting hotel guests in the digital age

In an era where seamlessly integrating technology and convenience has become the norm, the hospitality industry is at the forefront of a digital revolution. With the omnipresent smartphones and demands for personalized experiences, hotels are increasingly woven into the fabric of our interconnected lives. But this integration comes with a set of challenges, chief among them being the fortification of digital defenses to protect the guests who trust in the comfort and security of their temporary homes away from home.

Cybersecurity Challenges

Hoteliers face a unique set of cybersecurity challenges that can't be addressed by off-the-shelf solutions or traditional security mindsets. Hotels are part of a network that spans the globe, and the data that flows within and beyond their walls is more valuable and vulnerable than ever before.

The jingling of keys no longer signifies entry into a hotel room; the sound of a digital key unlocking a personal space in the cloud is silent. Reservations, personal identification and payment details are all stored and managed digitally, creating a treasure trove of data within hotel systems that cybercriminals actively target.

The Internet of Things, mobile devices and the guest devices being transient by their very nature have catalyzed potential entry points for cyber incidents, ranging from individual phishing schemes to sophisticated network breaches. Beyond the financial implications, such incidents can also lead to a loss of trust—a commodity hotels can ill afford to squander.

Understanding the Threat Landscape

To address these threats, one must first understand the breadth and depth of the risks involved. The scope of what's at stake is enormous and multifaceted, from personal data security to physical safety systems.

Hotels hold a wealth of guest data, necessitating a stringent approach to privacy and a proactive stance against evolving data protection legislation. With the General Data Protection Regulation becoming the norm, legal repercussions for data mismanagement are not only possible but likely.

Ransomware attacks can cripple a hotel's operations, from locking guests out of their rooms by freezing digital locks to shutting down reservation systems and financial transactions. The fallout from these incidents can be catastrophic, both financially and reputationally.

Not all threats come from the shadows of cyberspace. Employees with access to sensitive data pose a frequently under-addressed threat alongside third-party vendors who may not uphold the same security standards.  In addition to employees, other guests at the hotel can carry out attacks against the property as well. These users are already on the network.

Best Practices

The first step is recognizing the need for a robust cybersecurity strategy, but implementation requires a comprehensive approach, combining technology, policy, processes and people.

The human element in cybersecurity cannot be overstated. Regular training on recognizing and responding to security threats is imperative, as is fostering an overall culture of security-mindedness. After all, a hotel's cybersecurity defenses are only as strong as its weakest link.

Establishing a secure, well-thought-out network is foundational. This includes implementing firewalls that segment guest and administrative networks to reduce the scope of potential breaches. Segmenting the administrative networks to isolate key systems in their own enclave will protect them even further. Network segmentation will help protect the systems from unauthorized access, but the data must be considered as well. Implementing data encryption wherever possible will protect the data.

All of this infrastructure will produce telemetry that should be centralized and reviewed. This telemetry will provide an early warning system of any potential issues.

Multi-Factor Authentication is a relatively simple yet effective strategy to protect against unauthorized access. Requiring users to validate their identity through multiple means significantly enhances security. By implementing MFA, hotels can better protect guest accounts and payment information.

No hotel or hotel franchise can operate in isolation in an increasingly interconnected world. Partnering with proven vendors who align with the hotel's security priorities and standards is essential. This is particularly true in the case of payment data transfer, where secure channels and compliance with industry standards are crucial. The recently released PCI Security Standards Council “Third-Party Security Assurance Guidance” offers a foundational framework for hotels and franchises looking to assess and manage the risks associated with third-party providers.

With the cybersecurity skilled worker shortage and demand, it can be challenging to hire and maintain top level talent. Third-party providers can help fill this gap as well. They bring a wealth of experience and talent that can bridge the gap from network segmentation to systems monitoring that can accelerate the security posture of an organization.

Preparation is critical to minimizing the damage of a cyber attack. Having a clear, practiced incident response plan can mean the difference between swift resolution and long-lasting disruption. A comprehensive plan should include steps for containment, investigation, and communication with guests and authorities.

The Role of Next-Gen Technologies

Next-generation cybersecurity technologies offer powerful tools to mitigate risk, providing layers of security that can adapt and learn from the evolving threat environment. From artificial intelligence to machine learning and blockchain, these technologies have the potential to revolutionize cybersecurity in the hospitality industry.

AI-powered solutions can detect patterns and anomalies that traditional security tools often miss. By using AI to identify threats in real time, hotels can respond quickly and proactively to potential breaches.

Biometric authentication is becoming increasingly popular in security systems due to its accuracy and convenience. From iris scanning to facial recognition, biometric technologies offer a secure alternative to traditional password-based authentication.

With IoT devices permeating every aspect of hotel operations, dedicated security solutions for these devices are instrumental in minimizing the attack surface. These solutions can provide network segmentation and encryption for IoT devices and monitor for any suspicious activity. As the threat landscape continues to evolve, hotels must remain vigilant and proactive in their cybersecurity efforts. By implementing best practices and leveraging next-gen technologies, hotels can better protect their guests' data and maintain trust in an increasingly digital world.

The need for cybersecurity in the hospitality industry isn’t a mere suggestion; it’s an existential imperative. Each data breach, each compromised transaction, erodes the trust that guests place in hotels. But beyond the dire consequences of poor cybersecurity, there lies an opportunity to foster a culture of resilience. Cybersecurity is more than just a cost center; it's an investment in the future of the industry. By prioritizing the protection of guests and their data, hotels can differentiate themselves and demonstrate a commitment to the highest service and security standards.

In a world where convenience and connectivity are king, ensuring the safety of the digital touchpoints within the hotel experience is not just a technical challenge—it's an ethical one. Next-generation cybersecurity in the hospitality industry must balance the allure of innovation with the sobering reality of cyber threats. When performed with care and foresight, it's a delicate dance that can protect not just data but also the core of what makes guests return time and time again—their trust.

Tyler Owen serves as the senior director of product management for managed security services at VikingCloud.