Bed and breakfast inns used to be considered a place where people could go to get away for the weekend, but cell phones, laptop computers and tablets have changed all of that. Increasingly, people who used bed and breakfasts also bring their work with them. They check emails, work on their laptops, make use of company credit cards and access sensitive information. This happens with personal information, too. Credit card numbers, banking information and passwords are all used on Wi-Fi networks provided by bed and breakfast owners.
But here’s the problem: these networks aren’t secure, even if they are password protected. Any device connected to a network is visible to all the others on that network, making your guests vulnerable to snooping and data theft.
The Costs of Cyber Crime
You may have heard about some of the high-profile data breaches in the news:
- American retailer Target was hacked in 2013, and hackers gained access to 40 million credit card numbers. The breach cost the company $39 million in settlements.
- In 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed that personal information, including 47,000 Social Security numbers had been stolen from their network, along with electronic files, unreleased films, movie scripts, and email messages.
- An enormous data breach at the United States Internal Revenue service saw hackers steal information from 330,000 individuals, resulting in the theft of $50 million in federal funds.
It’s important to keep in mind that these successful hacks happened to large
organizations with extensive IT departments. If it can happen to them, imagine how much more difficult it would be for small businesses, such as a bed and breakfast inn, to defend against criminals.
Data theft is estimated to cost over $400 billion annually. It’s a low-risk activity, where a criminal can connect a computer to a Wi-Fi hotspot, then simply read the data on the network. Hackers can also set up an “Evil Twin” network—one that looks official, but isn’t—and have people log into it. Users can access the Internet as usual, but hackers can log everything they do.
How Online Safety Relates to You
If you think that data theft can’t happen to you or your small bed and breakfast, think again. Between 2010 and 2012, 72% of all data breaches involved companies which employed 100 employees or less. On top of this, Symantec’s 2015 Internet Security Threat Report shows that the hospitality industry is in the top ten sectors breached by cyber criminals, with 1.8 million identities exposed that year.
Three quarters of Canadian bed and breakfast operations employ fewer than five people and, with most having little or no technical knowledge about network privacy, they can be easy targets for hackers. With no IT departments for the industry, owner/operators are left to fend for themselves when it comes to online safety.
As for your guests, a recent Symantec survey in the European Union found that 59% of the people reported previous problems with data protection, such as email accounts being hacked, stolen bank details, online identity theft, and more. An even more telling number is that 88% of respondents say that data security is the most important factor when considering doing business with another company.
When you take these numbers into account, it becomes obvious that your guests are deeply concerned about their online privacy, and many are taking steps to help keep their private information safe. Unfortunately, they often leave devices like cell phones or tablets unprotected. Without proper privacy measures, this often leaves them vulnerable when connected to Wi-Fi networks.
VPN Hardware: A Simple Solution
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows devices to safely connect without being visible to others on the same network. Many different VPN services are available, but these still carry risk to the user. When connected to public networks, data can still be vulnerable to criminals with the right tools and knowledge. At the same time, software must be installed on the devices themselves, and limits on the number or types of devices that can use the service are also in place.
Using VPN routers eliminates any restrictions on devices. This hardware runs in the same way as an ordinary router, but offers encryption of data from the point of connection. Any device is compatible—phones, tablets, laptops, even gaming consoles—so guests can be sure of their privacy, regardless of how they are accessing the network. There is also no software to install, making connection for guests no different than connecting to normal Wi-Fi networks.
An additional advantage to guests is the ability to “roam at home” while using the network. A VPN can show a user as accessing the Internet from their own country, and allows them to view all the websites and content that they get at home. Benefits like this can add value to a visit from a foreign country.
The installation of VPN hardware is no different than the installation of a normal network router: plug it into your Internet access point, plug in the power, and it’s ready to go. Some VPN routers allow for automatic updates, keeping the firmware current with security measures and patches. VPN routers with this ability need minimal technical skills for owners to maintain them.
Featuring safe, private Internet access as a standard amenity can appeal to the many people who consider data privacy to be important. Bed and breakfast inns that actively advertise this feature will likely seem more attractive to business people, and other guests who seek better protection from criminals.
Data protection is a growing industry, with businesses and individuals more concerned than ever about the safety of their personal information. In a highly competitive market, advertising private network service to guests can make a difference to everyone who is concerned about the issue.
About the author: Dale Crangle is a freelance content specialist. He has written a number of projects for tech companies, software developers and various other industries. He currently lives with his wife in Mississauga, Ontario.