Tech Talk

Recent posts

A great deal has been written over the years about the viability of moving a hotel’s property-management system (PMS) to the cloud to take advantage of the latest technologies, but hoteliers need to realize that it’s not the only viable option. All platforms have advantages, including self-hosted, private cloud and on-premise solutions that leverage the latest mobile, contact free and web-based technologies. Independent operators can still enhance the digital guest experience, support personalized and mobile check-in, deploy contact free technologies, and secure hotel/guest data even if their PMS does not reside in the cloud. It should not be a question of “Cloud or On Premise?” but rather “Does the PMS solve your business objectives in both technology and service?”

Much has been written in the mainstream hospitality press about the challenges COVID-19 has presented to the industry. Hotels are in more pain than at any time in our memories. Because of the extensive media coverage, I won’t dwell on this topic further in what is primarily a technology column. But it’s the background for this week’s column, and so merits acknowledgement.

Are You All In?
Posted: 07/27/2020

Imagine everyone in your organization engaged, aligned, and performing to their potential. Imagine everyone playing “All In.”

Great organizations have synergy. Their culture allows them to play to a rhythm at a different tempo than the average organization. How do you get that at your organization?

Many front-line hospitality workers rely on tips for a significant part of their paychecks. If not for tips, many hotel associates who serve as waitstaff, bartenders, housekeepers, bell staff, concierges and pool attendants would soon be looking for other jobs. This is a regional issue: in most of Asia and Europe, staff get higher base pay, and tips are either not expected at all, or are truly discretionary. But in the U.S., Canada, Britain and other countries, tips are an important reality, and one that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

As somebody who’s helped to grow a company from 13 people to nearly a thousand, I know very well the excitement that comes with having a mindset focused entirely on growth. Every newly acquired customer, every new office and every milestone means the gap between you and your nearest competitor is that much bigger and that much harder to overtake.

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.


How Hackers Attack Your Hotel Back Office

by Rick Warner
Left: Pictures of actual hotel back-office closets.


Experts estimate between 38 percent and 47 percent of credit card fraud occurs in the hospitality and food and beverage industries. The high volume of credit card transactions, high staff turnover and data-rich target environment make the hospitality industry attractive to cybercriminals. Despite industry reliance on compliance standards such as PCI DSS, over the past few years, many major brands were breached and lost hundreds of thousands of guest credit card numbers. 

Hotel systems store mission-critical corporate data, credit card data and personally identifiable information (PII) for both guest and staff. Credit card data is the most common target because the numbers can immediately be used to commit online and retail fraud. Cybercriminals find credit card data in applications such as POS systems, property management systems (PMS) and loyalty reward program databases. Once a breach has occurred it can take months to discover, all the while hackers continue to attack the system. Personally identifiable information (PII) is used for identity theft and also stolen from the above as well as back-office applications and corporate systems such as HR management.
According to a recent report for SecureState, the most common methods of external attack include:

  • Weak passwords (39 percent)
  • Social engineering/phishing (30 percent)
  • System misconfiguration (14 percent)
  • Missing patches and unsupported legacy systems (15 percent)

External attacks are used for the initial penetration into the network. Following the initial breach, hackers exploit the network through subsequent levels. For hotels, there are ways to reduce risk of the first layer breach, including:

  1. Hotels can eliminate weak passwords with training and policies requiring strong passwords, including longer passwords with a combination of letters and numbers, lower and uppercase, and special symbols. Requiring strong passwords reduces the risk from standard “dictionary” or brute force attacks. Another best practice for hospitality is that users should log in and out of core systems every time they access; “tailgating” between users is a risk at both the front desk and the back office. There is a balance between convenience and security; usually the more convenient, the less secure.
  2. Social engineering and phishing are becoming more common these days. Social engineering means conning a legitimate user to provide access information or stealing the information needed to enter the system anonymously or as another user. The dangers involve theft, editing or deleting mission-critical information, adding malware and escalation of user privileges through the system that eventually leads to access at the domain or system administrator level. Email is the most used phishing approach, and hotels need to train employees to be vigilant at all times when opening emails or links within emails, even if they come from known users. “Need to know” privileges should restrict systems and sensitive data to those who need to do their job, not just based on their title. 
  3. Misconfiguration of systems can include leaving default passwords on hardware such as routers, switches and access points or on applications. Typically, there is more risk when someone adds equipment to the network after an emergency outage, or someone purchases consumer-grade hardware and puts it on the network without documentation or informing the service provider.
  4. Hardware with missing patches and security updates is a serious problem because once a hacker has breached the system from the outside, these systems become the vector for deeper attacks within the network, especially older Microsoft servers. Lack of dedicated IT support at the site level exacerbates the problems and over time, obsolete and unused equipment piles up in the IT closet, with no documentation about which equipment connects with critical services, and what equipment is obsolete and unused. Many hotels IT closets have not been maintained in years, and in many cases, they can be a fire or safety hazard.

To illustrate the point, look at the photos of actual hotel back-office closets at the top of this webpage.

Hotel operators who leave their IT back office like this invite security risks and increase the probability of hardware-based network failure.

Overall Security Posture

Hotels have a specific set of threats and vulnerabilities that require specific hotel-related mitigation to protect assets that are most likely to be attacked. A cyber security checklist should be part of the employee onboarding process to promote awareness. Hotels should consider technology solutions that employ modern equipment, intrusion detection, monitoring and alerting, and periodic scanning for vulnerabilities within the overall security approach for the hotel.

Security in the hotel back office begins with a standard configuration of modern equipment enabling network visibility. Regular maintenance and documentation help ensure proper configuration of the gateway, switches and firewall. Maintaining an uncluttered, well-documented back office reduces risk from misconfiguration, unpatched and obsolete equipment. Finally, proactive, regular hacking countermeasures such as periodic network vulnerability scanning, security policy awareness and testing should be considered.      

About The Author
Rick Warner
Hotel Defenders

Rick Warner is a 30-year hospitality industry veteran who has worked as an operator, vendor and consultant. He is the co-founder of Hotel Defenders which specializes in assessing, optimizing, remediating and monitoring hotel back office environments. For more information, email him at

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
Leave comment

 Security code