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What to Do About Social Engineering and POS attacks in the Hotel Industry

Think about your average hotel lobby on a busy day. Likely there will be numerous comings and goings as guests check in and out, make use of the hotel facilities and walk around the grounds. Staff, too, will be moving about the building, carrying out the various tasks their duties demand. From a hacker's point of view, the bustling nature of hotels make them ideal locations for social engineering.

Social engineering is a tried-and-true cybercrime attack vector where the criminal seeks to manipulate people to introduce malware into the corporate system. In the hotel example, the con artist might place a USB stick labeled 'management bonuses' somewhere will it will likely be found by a member of staff. For whoever finds it, the temptation to plug it into a computer is obvious.

Another example could be a hotel guest who manipulates an employee to let them use the reception computer - from there it is simple for the hacker to introduce malware to the system.

Of course, social engineering attacks can be carried out remotely. Simply sending an email and enticing the recipient to click on an infected link is enough. With so many staff in a hotel able to access the enterprise systems through point-of-sale (POS) machines and other computers, it is relatively easy to mount a targeted attack.

For example, an evil-doer might email the complaints team of a hotel about the state of the pool and offer to show pictures as evidence - available on a download or link that is infected with malware. It takes just one person to click to infect an entire hotel network.

The good news is that hotels can address the challenges of social engineering through rigorous employee education. Hotels should look to implement detailed training programs  that educate employees on social engineering techniques, such as phishing attacks and drive-by downloads.

Hotels must also understand the risks associated with having POS systems and credit card data storage in publicly accessible places, such as the reception desk, lobby, bar or gift shop. Such systems should be locked by passwords of adequate strength, and employees should be given clear guidance on when they can and cannot leave such systems unattended.

Meanwhile, to limit the impact of any successful breaches, hotels should ensure that POS systems are adequately protected. Hackers who gain access to a POS system use this exploitation point to move laterally through the broader enterprise network. The lateral attacker's job is often made easier by an obvious naming schema for POS systems. For example, when an attacker is enumerating the victim network, and they find a system within the cardholder environment named "POS1" or "MY-POS-VENDOR", it's a dead giveaway to target that particular POS system, making the intruder's work trivial. A simple name change can often help protect customer data from such malicious attacks.

In addition, you should segment the POS system from the network, prevent it from having internet access and only allow it to communicate with a handful (at most) of systems outside of that segment.

Jane Dotsenko is Trustwave marketing manager for the EMEA region.