December 27, 2023
By Kim Campbell

Cybercrimes are rising in every industry, but hospitality has been particularly impacted in recent years. Hotels have seen a significant crime spike compared to many other businesses, resulting in heightened concerns for hoteliers and guests. According to a report from Skift and Oracle Hospitality, “Hospitality in 2025,” hotel information security is as high a priority for consumers as it is for industry professionals. The report showed that 56% of travelers express concerns about data security and privacy protection when giving hotels their information, with 20% expressing serious concern.

Although cybercrimes are up, understanding the importance of hotel information security and how to manage potential threats can help your property protect its data, employees, and guests. In this guide, we explore what hotel information security really means, why it matters, how to improve your data protection strategy, and more.

What is hotel information security?

Security is a cornerstone of hotel operations. Hotels are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of both their employees and guests, and this responsibility manifests in numerous ways. Hotel security involves keeping the physical property safe (i.e., securing the building and grounds) and ensuring the safety of employees, guests, and visitors—both in person and online.

Information security involves the protection and management of sensitive, confidential information. Due to the nature of their operations, hotels engage with a monumental amount of sensitive information, from guest contact and payment information to passwords and account codes. Hotel information security involves the tools, strategies, and procedures hotels use to protect all the confidential data they process.

What types of information do hotels process? 

Every single day, hotels process massive amounts of private data. Sensitive information passes through various hotel channels each minute, and failing to secure one could negatively impact the property, its employees, and guests. Although some data is easy to identify as sensitive or confidential, hotels process an impressive amount of information that needs protection, including:

  • Financial information, like hotel financial records, personal credit card details, payment authorizations, bank account information, purchasing history, third-party vendors, and more. 
  • Contact information, such as name, address, contact number, email, and other personally identifiable information (PII) for guests and employees. 
  • Demographic data, including location, age, gender, marital status, and guest preferences.
  • Stay-related information, like the booking engine a guest used, how long they stayed, reason for travel, etc. 
  • Log-in information—think passwords and credentials for a variety of hotel systems, including PMS, CRM, POS systems, booking engines, and internet networks.

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What should hotels know about information security?

Hotels are particularly vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks due to the industry’s reliance on third-party vendors to complete online bookings, payments, and guest communications. In addition to their dependence on online data processing, there are many additional unique risks hotels face.

Complex ownership structures

It’s common for hotels to operate under complex ownership structures, as a particular property may also be part of a hospitality ownership group and belong to a more prominent international brand, like Hilton or Marriott. The more complex a hotel’s ownership structure, the more exposed it is to potential risks. In 2008 and 2010, Wyndham Worldwide faced massive data breaches because of easily guessed passwords. Hackers accessed individual operators (single hotels) to gain entry to the entire brand’s network. Due to too-simple passwords, the data of 619,000 consumers was exposed.

High staff turnover 

The hospitality and tourism industries have long faced higher turnover rates than many other business sectors. Recently, turnover rates have been reported as “critically high” industry-wide, even globally. Due to higher turnover rates, hotels are faced with gathering, storing, and protecting substantial amounts of employee data. Hotels facing the highest turnover ratios experience a greater risk of security breaches due to processing more sensitive data and seeing more new employees lacking thorough safety training.

Insecure Wi-Fi networks 

Poorly protected Wi-Fi networks are more exposed to various hackers and cybercrimes. In addition to opening the hotel to data threats, weak networks put guests at risk of having their information stolen, devices infected, or data compromised.

Human Error 

Even well-trained employees can make mistakes that open the hotel to data threats. From failing to log off a hotel computer to downloading a malicious email link, small mistakes can add up and cost the hotel big time.

What cybersecurity threats do hotels face?

Hotels are subject to a broad spectrum of cybersecurity attacks, from complex, wide-spreading breaches to targeted on-site network infiltrations. However, understanding how hackers, scammers, and other cybercriminals target hotels can help teams protect against them.

  • Malware. This dangerous software is designed to damage, disrupt, or access a computer system. Hotels face threats from malware in numerous areas, particularly payment systems. These attacks are often designed to spread; they may begin by infecting one system before spreading to others and potentially innumerable properties.
  • Ransomware. Hackers use malware to capture an organization’s data or files and block access to critical information. The files become encrypted and may only be retrieved with an encryption key. In light of a ransomware attack, the easiest, fastest way for most businesses, including hotels, to retrieve their data is to obtain the encryption key by paying a “ransom.” Even prominent brands, like Marriott International, have fallen subject to ransomware attacks. In 2020, consumer information was breached due to a ransomware attack on a third-party vendor, which exposed the data of 5.2 million travelers.
  • Phishing. During a phishing attack, scammers impersonate someone else, like a hotel or brand representative, to lure individuals into providing personal or payment data. For example, hackers may reach out through email or direct consumers to a fraudulent website as a way to entice them to share their data.
  • Baiting. Like phishing, baiting is an online scam that entices consumers or employees to click on a malicious link. Scammers appeal to consumers using alluring bait, like a gift card, complimentary upgrade, or free vacation.
  • DarkHotel hacking. A relatively new term, DarkHotel hacking is a form of cybercrime that utilizes a hotel’s Wi-Fi network to target individuals, often high-profile or luxury guests. By uploading malicious code to the hotel’s server, an attacker can forge digital certificates and target individual guests, convincing them to download harmful software. Strengthening network protections and using a virtual private network (VPN) while conducting sensitive business can help hotels and guests avoid DarkHotel attacks.
  • Watering hole attacks. Cybercriminals inject malware into the hotel’s website, which could affect guests who use their devices to access it. Hackers use malware to “poison the watering hole.”
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). A debilitating cyber-attack, DDoS attacks can ultimately impede a hotel’s standard operating capabilities. By flooding a hotel’s network, service, or server with internet traffic, hackers can disrupt how it usually functions. These attacks flood their target with traffic, utilizing multiple computer systems to attract more, clogging up the server’s ability to direct hotel traffic.
  • Point of Sale (POS) attacks. Hotels use third-party systems to capture and process consumer card information multiple times throughout their stay experience. POS attacks occur when malware infects payment systems. The malware then obtains credit or debit card information by scraping the data. Malware can move through the payment system to other POS systems managed by the same operator, potentially affecting multiple properties or entire brands. These attacks have the potential to remain undetected, inflicting damage for weeks or months before they are caught.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. Payment information is intercepted when traveling between the hotel and its payment processor, making the data available to be altered or stolen. Hotels with insecure Wi-Fi networks are also subject to MITM attacks, as hackers can access them to intercept unencrypted network traffic and obtain sensitive data.
  • Tailgating. An in-person crime, tailgating occurs when an attacker follows an employee or guest into a secure hotel area to gain access to sensitive data. Many areas of a hotel are inaccessible to guests to protect access to personal and financial information.
  • Identity theft. Protecting customers’ identities and confidential information should be paramount to every hotel. From personal identifying information to credit card and banking data, the industry’s reliance on online systems can put many consumers at risk of identity theft.

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How has hotel information security evolved? 

Regardless of which services your property uses, how safely it secures guest information can affect how consumers view your facility. How well you protect guests can impact travelers’ trust in the brand and the strength of your hotel's reputation.

As cybercrimes have become more complex and technology-based, hotels have also evolved to create more innovative security solutions. To combat the increased risk, properties are implementing new hotel technology, such as keyless room entry, cloud-based storage systems, biometric authentication, and digital authorization solutions, like Canary Digital Authorizations.

10 tips for improving your hotel information security strategy

Whether you operate a small roadside hotel or a large resort, helping guests feel safe is your responsibility. Follow these tips to strengthen your strategy for protecting hotel information and securing guests' data.

  1. Limit access to data. Protect hotel information by limiting who has access to sensitive data—online and on-property. Every hotel employee does not need access to protected data, like guest payment information or private employee records. Create a hierarchy of information security that limits access to confidential information, also restricting physical access to sensitive hotel areas where personal, protected data is accessible.
  2. Create an internal security policy. Develop a comprehensive data security strategy to protect sensitive information. Identify which booking sources or computer systems are most exposed, and determine what security measures the hotel can invest in to offer additional protection. To prevent further damage from wide-spreading attacks like DDoS or MITM threats, outline a process to mitigate compromised systems when an attack occurs.
  3. Train staff well. Implement strict security regulations and provide thorough staff training. Test employees on hotel information security procedures before granting access to sensitive data, and ensure the team stays informed on the latest cybersecurity scams.
  4. Keep systems up-to-date. Regularly update information security training, hotel computers, and software systems, as one fragile link in the system could weaken the entire property’s security.
  5. Combine information security strategies. Incorporate various cybersecurity measures to increase your protection. Network monitoring, anti-malware software, firewalls, and traffic filtering tools provide multiple levels of data protection.
  6. Add two-factor authentication. Protect all hotel devices with two-factor authentication, including desktop computers, laptops, and flash drives. Adding multiple authentication steps ensures that only employees with the proper passwords, credentials, or access certifications can view sensitive information, like guest payment data or PII.
  7. Encrypt sensitive data. One of the most efficient ways to protect confidential data, like payment information, is to encrypt it. Encryption stores data in an altered form, ensuring that sensitive details, like payment information, are never stored directly on the property.
  8. Know and adhere to security regulations. Maintain Payment Card Industry DATA Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance. PCI DSS provides a set of rules and regulations that businesses must meet to ensure they protect consumer payment information and manage it securely.
  9. Stop using PDF authorization forms. Although many hotels email PDF forms back and forth to obtain payment authorizations, they do not meet updated PCI DSS regulations. While most hotels who use them do so unaware of their lack of security, if you use them and a breach occurs, you might have to pay a hefty fine.
  10. Evaluate your hotel’s security. Act like a hacker; host routine penetration tests (i.e., pen tests) where you try to gain access to the hotel’s network, operational systems, or POS system. During a pen test, several simulated cyberattacks are attempted on the hotel’s network to pinpoint potential weaknesses and vulnerable systems. Use pen tests to assess various areas of the hotel’s security infrastructure, including POS systems, your website, booking systems, and Wi-Fi networks.

The ability to identify potential breaches makes it easier for hotels to protect against them. Use all the tools at your disposal to ensure sensitive data is safe and secure.

Beef up hotel information security to protect employees and guests

Although technological innovations like online payment resources have made hotels more susceptible to cyber-attacks, there’s no disputing technology’s benefits to the hospitality industry. In addition to streamlining hotel communications and optimizing operations, technological advances have reshaped the advertising world. Keep reading to discover how to get ahead of the competition by using technology for hotel marketing.

Headshot of Cvent writer Kimberly Campbell

Kim Campbell

Kim is a full-time copy and content writer with many years of experience in the hospitality industry. She entered the hotel world in 2013 as a housekeeping team member and worked her way through various departments before being appointed to Director of Sales. Kim has championed numerous successful sales efforts, revenue strategies, and marketing campaigns — all of which landed her a spot on Hotel Management Magazine’s “Thirty Under 30” list.

Don’t be fooled though; she’s not all business! An avid forest forager, post-apocalyptic fiction fan, and free-sample-fiend, Kim prides herself on being well-rounded.

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