Feds issue advisory on keylogger in hotel business centers

US Secret Service and the NCCIC have alerted hoteliers about a potential presence of keyloggers in the machines provided to guests in hotel business centers.

US Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) have issued a non-public security advisory in the hospitality industry to warn on the activities of cyber criminals which are compromising hotel business center PCs with keystroke-logging malware to steal personal and financial data from guests.

The attackers haven’t used sophisticated techniques to infect the machines in the hotel business centers, they have used low-cost malware, easy to find in the wild and that not need any particular skill in their use.

“the attacks were not sophisticated, requiring little technical skill and did not involve the exploit of vulnerabilities in browsers, operating systems or other software. The malicious actors were able to utilize a low-cost, high-impact strategy to access a physical system, stealing sensitive data from hotels and subsequently their guest’s information.” states the US Secret Service.

The US Secret Service is inviting the management at hotel business centers to carefully sanitize every machine is provided to guests.

“The USSS recommends that hotels in the area be on alert and take immediate action to determine if their business center computers have been infected by similar malware and to conduct a risk assessment of their publicly accessible machines,” the advisory said. 


The advisory, spread within businesses working in the hospitality industry on July 10, reports that USSS North Texas Electronic Crimes Task Force has arrested suspects who have compromised computers in several major hotel business centers in Texas.

“In some cases, the suspects used stolen credit cards to register as guests of the hotels; the actors would then access publicly available computers in the hotel business center, log into their Gmail accounts and execute malicious key logging software,” “The keylogger malware captured the keys struck by other hotel guests that used the business center computers, subsequently sending the information via email to the malicious actors’ email accounts,” the warning continues. “The suspects were able to obtain large amounts of information including other guests personally identifiable information (PII), log in credentials to bank, retirement and personal webmail accounts, as well as other sensitive data flowing through the business center’s computers.” states the advisory.

Despite personnel at hotel business centers has different solutions to scan its system to detect and remove the keylogger malware, it must be considered that an attacker with a physical access to a system has the ability to perform practically every operation on the machine, for example simple reboot it with a live Linux distro. Almost every defensive system can be easily defeated if users are allowed to insert mobile storage to the targeted machine like CDs or USB Flash drives.

The data theft discovered at hotel business centers highlights the importance of physical security in conjunction with logical security, the lack of physical security measures can affect the entire security supply chain.

“This particular type of criminal activity highlights the importance of the need for physical and network security to work together as they are dependent on each other,” the release continued. “Physical events can have cyber (logical data flow) consequences and cyber events can have physical consequences.”

The advisory issued to the management at hotel business centers also includes a lists of recommendations to secure public computers, following the principal suggestions.

  • Display a banner to users when logging onto business center computers; this should include warnings that highlight the risks of using publicly accessible machines.
  • Create individual, unique log on credentials for access to both business center computers and Wi-Fi; this may deter individuals who are not guests from logging in.
  • Give all accounts least privilege accesses; for example, guests logging in with the supplied user ID and password should not be able to download, install, uninstall or save files whereas one authorized employee may have a need for those privileges to carry out daily duties.
  • Create virtual local area networks (VLANs) for all users, which will inhibit attackers from using their computer to imitate the hotel’s main server.
  • Scan all new devices (e.g. USB drives and other removable media) before they are attached to the computer and network; disabling the auto run feature will also prevent removable media from opening automatically.
  • Establish pre-determined time limits for active and non-active guest and employee sessions.
  • Select safe defaults in the browsers available on the business center desktops (e.g. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox). Options such as private browsing and “do not track” for passwords and websites are some of the many available.

My personal suggestion is to avoid using public computers and networks, cyber criminals are behind you.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Editor-In-Chief, CDM)



July 17, 2014

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