Securing the Internet of Things (IoT)

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With the technological advancements emerging in recent years, it seems like everything is interconnected. Individuals can change the temperature in their house, open curtains, turn on a light, unlock a door or even track the contents of their refrigerator. All of these items are collectively referred to as the Internet of Things. According to Dictionary.com, the Internet of Things (often noted as IoT) is “a network of everyday devices, appliances and other objects equipped with computer chips and sensors that can collect and transmit data through the Internet” (Random House, 2017).

These network-enabled devices are sending and receiving copious amounts of data about our daily routines via the Internet — when we are eating or sleeping, exercising habits, our preferred room temperature, etc. The key here is that these devices send and receive data over the Internet; therefore, care must be taken to secure these items from cyber criminals.

At hospitality technology conferences, there have been countless sessions on guest technology and one standard tends to repeat over and over… Guests want access to the same technologies they have at home while traveling. That brings us to the IoT. What IoT technologies are hospitality businesses deploying?

Hotels allow guests to bypass the front desk by checking in with their phone and using their phone as their room key. Energy management can be conducted remotely by monitoring heaters and air conditioning units. Inventories can be taken, boarding passes delivered, security cameras… and the list of applications for the hospitality industry goes on and on.

“It is important to recognize the higher level of complexity that all these new devices bring,” shares Cristian Morosan, Ph.D., CHTP, CHE associate professor at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. “Businesses need to think through very carefully before making any premature technology deployment decisions, and have this complexity in mind. More complex networks, procedures, and how the humans operate and troubleshoot all these technologies may create vulnerabilities.”

As we already know, items connected to the Internet can cause information security issues if not properly safeguarded. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provided three valuable tips for increasing the security on Internet-enabled devices:

  1. Keep a clean machine. Like your smartphone or PC, keep any device that connects to the Internet free from viruses and malware. Update the software regularly on the device itself as well as the apps you use to control the device.
  2. Think twice about your device. Have a solid understanding of how a device works, the nature of its connection to the Internet, and the type of information it stores and transmits.
  3. Secure your network. Properly secure the wireless network you use to connect Internet enabled devices.

These guidelines can and should be applied to any IoT devices at home, in a hotel, at a private club, in a spa or at a restaurant. The most important piece of the puzzle is properly securing the network to prevent hackers from connecting to your devices. Depending on the device, such as a thermostat, hackers could gain access to the climate control system within your building and change or disable temperature controls. This could cause a minor discomfort to guests or it could result in a more serious situation if you are at a sky resort in the middle of winter. Imagine your hotel guests returning to their rooms without any heat!

Sources:

Tanya Venegas, MBA, MHM, CHIA is director of customer success at HotStats based in Houston, Texas USA. Tanya served as executive director at the HFTP Americas Research Center at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston for more than 15 years. 

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