A Book Review: When Gadgets Betray Us

Order a reprint of this story
Close (X)


To reprint an article or any part of an article from Hospitality Upgrade please email geneva@hospitalityupgrade.com. Fee is $250 per reprint. One-time reprint. Fee may be waived under certain circumstances.


June 01, 2012
Technology Gadgets

View Magazine Version of This Article

In his book, “When Gadgets Betray Us: The Dark Side of Our Infatuation with New Technologies,” Robert Vamosi prepared an interesting view of the art of the possible with regard to the security of various new technologies. Vamosi’s stated purpose is to make us aware of how our desire for convenience and love for gadgets may compromise our privacy and make us complacent. “With technology we simply haven’t evolved our survival instincts,” he writes. “We often make leaps of faith with new technologies based on very few criteria.”1 

Vamosi hopes that his book will cause us to rethink our mistaken belief that we do not need to be personally involved in protecting our privacy. His intent is to demystify the complex workings of technology for the average person and his book is very readable, up to a point. He captures the reader’s attention by providing stories, sometimes of famous people, who have suffered losses at the expense of technology.  He shares experiments conducted by cyber experts that expose limitations of simple technologies that we are all familiar with as well as limitations of some newer technologies that are less well known.  He includes statistics that help reveal the magnitude of the problem. However, at times, his explanations of how the technology works can be difficult for the average reader to understand.

Chapter two of Vamosi’s book, where he shares the stories of technology experts in the information security field, Adam Laurie of The Bunker®, a company that provides secure hosting facilities, colocation and IT outsourcing services, and of Paul Pablo Holman of the Shmoo Group, a non-profit security think tank, speak directly to the hotel industry.  Both men have publicized their successes in using television remote control units in hotels to do various things including obtaining free premium movies and entertainment, zeroing out minibar balances, surfing email intended for other guests and even defacing the hotel welcome screen.  Laurie’s research has found that most hotels use one of only a few backend systems and estimates that breaking that code can be as easy as one in 16,000 code combinations2, a trivial task for today’s laptop computers, and would take only hours to complete. Laurie and Holman share many examples that show how easily technologies can be misused.  Vamosi provides references so interested readers can dive more deeply into the issues. He also offers that improvements are readily available by requiring authentication on these systems and add or improve encryption.

It is curious that throughout his book Vamosi doesn’t address hotel keycards. He spends a great deal of time discussing locks and electronic key fobs used to unlock cars, which he reports use only 40 bit encryption and take only hours to crack, versus the industry standard 256 bit encryption which would theoretically take years to crack—but he does not address keycards used to unlock doors.

The Internet is rife with rumors, which appear to be misunderstandings, about keycards containing personal information of the hotel guest, but not much information about cybercriminals creating their own keycards for the purpose of breaking into the rooms of hotel guests. We know from the credit card industry that creating a card with magnetic strip information is easily done with only the simplest of technologies. Oddly enough, Vamosi never mentions the need for cybercriminals to obtain the necessary information to make their own keycards.  Since the criminal industry is all about risk and reward, perhaps breaking into rooms carries too much risk and not enough reward for them.

An interesting experiment mentioned in the book was conducted at the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona in 2004.  Microchips containing a 16-digit identification number were implanted under the skin of guests to provide them with a convenient method to order and pay for drinks and entertainment.3 Vamosi mentions that it was not a popular option at the time, as relatively few guests opted to try it.

Robert Vamosi has done a good job in alerting us that our blind trust in the gadgets we use every day – cellphones, cars, computers etc. – give us a false sense of our own personal security because we never think about the systems underlying these new technologies and whether or not they can really protect us.  Although we are vulnerable, we think we are invulnerable. While there are no universal solutions, and Vamosi offers none, his book serves to raise our awareness and hopefully make us think about how we can safeguard ourselves.

Mary Siero, CISSP, CISM, CRISC, is the president of Innovative IT in Las Vegas, www.iitlasvegas.com.  

1 (Vamosi 2011, Kindle Loc 165-74)
2 (Vamosi 2011, Kindle Loc 652-70)
3 (Vamosi 2011, Kindle Loc 2170-81)

©2012 Hospitality Upgrade
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent.
For permission requests, call 678.802.5302 or email info@hospitalityupgrade.com.

want to read more articles like this?

want to read more articles like this?

Sign up to receive our twice-a-month Watercooler and Siegel Sez Newsletters and never miss another article or news story.