Innovative Cyber Criminals Hack Austrian Hotel

One of the main reasons that in the past cyber crime was never too much of an issue, was the fact that many of the people who were capable of performing the attacks were not that good at the criminal side of it.   Hopeless geeks would steal stuff nobody wanted and then get picked up when they tried extorting money.   This is changing now in a big way as cyber gangs across the world start working with organised crime and becoming much more effective.

Luxury Hotels Targeted by Hackers

One of the current hot cyber crimes is ransomware, getting access to a system and denying access to the data or applications themselves.  A popular method is for viruses to encrypt important data and destroying it unless a payment is made.   It does work occasionally but only on badly configured and poorly defended systems – any half decent disaster recovery system will make such attacks ineffective.

However the latest targets of slightly modified attacks are big hotel chains.  Hotels have long been a target for technological crime, often because there’s a mix of wealthy people using mobile devices and poor levels of IT support and administration.   Previous targets have been hijacking Hotel Wifi systems or infecting lobby computers to steal usernames and passwords.   The latest twist however is to target a much more practical application, the hackers are taking over the hotels keycard systems.  The application which controls, registers and deregisters the room control cards – effectively controlling access to guests rooms – locking them in or out at will.   These are often also linked directly to reservation systems which can also cause havoc for any hotel.

There have been many rumours of these attacks taking place, however one hotel has decided to admit that they were attacked and decided to pay the ransom.  The hotel is a luxurious four star place in Austria called the Romantic Seehotel Jaegerwirt set alongside a beautiful Alpine lake.   Like many modern hotels they have a sophisticated IT system which controls all the key cards.   When the system was compromised none of the keys worked and nobody could open any of the room doors – customers were either locked in or out of their room.

Imagine the chaos that would cause the hotel management, especially on the opening weekend of their busy Winter season.  Then the demand came, a relatively modest request for 1500 EUR paid in Bitcoins in order to restore their key card system and access to the reservation application.  As the manager pointed out, the police and insurance are of little help when you have 180 guests locked out of their rooms.  The manager decided that paying the demand was quicker and cheaper than any other alternative.  There are two crucial aspects to this case, the modest request and the fact that when it was paid the hackers kept their word and restored the system.   These factors are crucial to convincing  victims that ‘paying up’ is the sensible option it in fact the best business decision in the circumstances.

Cyber crime is moving into a new and more dangerous phase than the amateuristic attacks we have seen in the past.   More and more of our world and systems are accessible online, the IoT (Internet of Things) is bringing vulnerabilities into our world that previously didn’t exist and criminals are using these avenues to run their businesses.  The hotel has interestedly identified an upgrade that will prevent these attacks in the future, their next refurbishments will replace the keycards with ordinary keys which were originally used by the hotel when it opened over a hundred years ago.

UK Users to Receive Piracy Warning Letters

A couple of weeks ago I sat in the front room of an elderly neighbour, on the TV screen was a Premier League football match being broadcast on Sky Sports.    I was surprised because I knew this chap struggled on a basic pension and the Sky Sports package is not cheap!   However I then noticed the digital box, it was not the standard Sky digital  box but a custom TV media box complete with VPNs.

For a few pounds a year to cover updates, this box was pre-installed with a version of Kodi and a few extras which granted free access to every single Sky subscription channel.  The cost of these channels if paid for legitimately would be over a hundred pounds a month, yet the cost for these was virtually nothing.  The box even simulated the Sky selection screen which meant that this 80 year old man was happily surfing at the cutting edge of digital piracy.

A New Breed of Digital Pirate?

It turns out his nephew has installed it and he’d been using it for several months.   He was blissfully unaware that technically he was stealing all this content from Sky and to be honest I didn’t feel the need to spoil his enjoyment by telling him

The reality is that in the UK and indeed across the world, digital piracy is starting to hit the mainstream.  In millions of households, neat little digital boxes sit happily under TVs streaming illegal copies of US cable channels or UK satellite channels.  It’s got to the point that it’s so common that most people don’t even consider it illegal, something like taping a radio programme or copying a DVD.  After all why pay a fortune monthly to some huge media conglomerate when you can purchase a pre-installed media streamer that supplies the same for nothing.

It does of course, cost the media companies huge amounts of lost revenue and obviously they are trying to stop this.  In the UK this month, will see the first phase of action designed to stop this behaviour.  The biggest ISPs in the UK will all be sending out emails to any individual who’s internet connection is being used to download copyrighted material illegally.

It’s been discussed for years but has always been postponed for a variety of reasons.   For example there was a lot controversy when copyright holders started using a practice dubbed as speculative invoicing.  These were basically demands for money threatening legal action against anyone who’s internet connection was being used to download copyrighted material – you can read about in this article – Bittorrents Monitored.   The issue has never been detecting the downloads but rather what actions can be taken, legally it was very difficult to prove an individual was responsible even if their internet connection was being used.

The letters will be sent in the form of emails, and will simply inform the user that their internet connection is being used to download copyrighted material and information about where it can be obtained legitimately.    There will be no threats, fines or further action and critics have pointed out that it will have little effect.   The action will only target P2P users, those who download using torrents and file shares – however the use of these methods has fallen dramatically over the last few years.  The majority of people who view copyrighted material now stream directly using these TV boxes and programs such as Kodi which are slightly more difficult to detect.

It is likely that these users will be targeted later although who knows how long this will take.

Best UK VPN Access for iPlayer

Which is the best UK VPN Access provider with British based servers for BBC iPlayer?  It’s a difficult question, simply down to the huge choice that is available now online.  Years ago, I was involved in a project to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) client on thousands of laptops in a large multinational company.  The laptops consisted of wide variety of hardware, lots of different language builds and each had different software installed (even some VPN client software which needed to be removed first).   One thing I did learn throughout this project is that VPN client software can cause all sorts of problems mainly concerned with network connectivity if it doesn’t work properly.

best vpn for UK TV abroad

Reliable Software is Important

This is why, choosing a reliable VPN service is so important. For most of us, an internet connection is why we use our computers, using a poor service will at best slow down your connection and at worse completely break it. A VPN needs to be well configured, maintained and supported both at the client and the server side to work quickly, securely and seamlessly.

In fact seamlessly is an important point, because the better a service is, the less impact it will have on your connection.  If your internet speeds plummet to a slow crawl as soon as you enable the connection then it’s going to be fairly worthless.

Most people need a VPN for the following reasons:

  • Secure their connection and personal details.
  • Access blocked websites like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ABC and others.
  • Privacy

There are other reasons, but it’s mainly to bypass blocks and ensure security, any well run VPN should be able to supply both of these.  If you’re interested in a accessing a particular service like British TV online then a fast UK connection is the priority.  This is an important point, the best VPN or Smart DNS service will actually allow you access to a network of VPN servers in different countries. However it is the speed of the specific servers that you connect to which will ultimately determine how it performs.

For example, many services offer a server in a few different countries, which is great if you are not concerned about which country you connect to.  However if you want to watch and access the BBC online then you will have to select a UK one to change your IP address, unfortunately so will many others.   Which is why for so many companies popular servers will be completely overloaded.

Identity Cloaker monitor their servers 24/7 and because they are one of the oldest and safest UK VPN Access providers on the internet they have a wealth of expertise in maintaining fast, accessible servers.  They also have deployed servers based on demand – their network has dozens of UK and US servers with huge, available bandwidth to be used for the popular media sites like the BBC and Hulu, but less servers based in other countries.

Which means their UK VPN servers are fast, very fast especially when used with the compression algorithm in the client software.

The reality is that the service is one of the best because it has been around for so long and been actively developed.  The software is sophisticated and robust, the servers have been optimized over the years to provide the fastest and most effective service.

Here’s a great example, although Identity Cloaker was originally available using the client software which redirected through a UK BBC proxy for British addresses but it was becoming apparent that demand was moving towards different devices.  For example many people were starting to stream video directly onto Smart TVs, tablets or media devices.  Making different versions of the VPN client software was almost impossible for many of these devices, how do you install software onto your Smart TV for example?

Which is why all the Identity Cloaker servers were modified to allow direct VPN connections from other devices.  Basically it was possible now to set up your VPN connection manually on tablets, ipads and phones.  You can even connect directly from your router to effectively switch every device to use the VPN even things like Smart TVs – watch this video.

This won’t be suitable for everyone of course, because by default it does effect every device connected to that router.  However it’s a marvelous fix for situations where you can’t get access to the network configuration settings and still need the a good VPN you can get access to.   Most modern routers will have this facility, although unfortunately in the UK there is a tendency for ISPs to supply heavily restricted devices.  BT have removed the majority of the connection settings in it’s Home Hub device including much of the VPN functionality.  The overriding advantage of this message though is that the IP address is classed as a residential one, a valuable asset that you’d normally pay for from a residential IP provider !

However for speed, security and reliability then I can thoroughly recommend Identity Cloaker which you can try out for 10 days using their . .