iBahn, a provider of internet services to some 3,000 hotels worldwide, has denied a report that its network was breached by hackers.
Bloomberg reported that a highly skilled group of hackers based in China, which US investigators have called "Byzantine Foothold", attacked iBahn, citing unnamed sources - including one US intelligence official.
The alleged breach "may have let hackers see millions of confidential emails, even encrypted ones" from executives staying in hotels using iBahn's network, according to Bloomberg.
The assertion came in an extensive story describing intensifying efforts by China-based backers to infiltrate computer systems of US corporations to steal intellectual property.
iBahn said that it was aware of the allegations but it had "not found proof of any breach on the iBahn network."
"iBahn takes the security and protection of its customers' information very seriously, provides its customers with the highest possible level of security, and relentlessly monitors attempted hacks," the company said. "As such, we are now gathering all relevant information regarding this matter and will provide updates as soon we learn more."
iBahn provides high-speed internet access, IP-based television and video conferencing services to hotels. Hackers would potentially be interested in attacking iBahn to target executives who use its services while travelling, said Rik Ferguson, director of security research and communication for Trend Micro in Europe.
Company employees who travel are likely to be more senior-level people who would have "more access to confidential information," Ferguson said.
Virtual private network
Even if hackers were able to see traffic passing on iBahn's network, companies tend to use VPN (virtual private network) services to ensure the traffic between their computer and the company network is encrypted. Without the digital keys to decrypt the traffic, it would be of no user to hackers.
iBahn has a certification programme to ensure that enterprise VPN software is compatible with its network, according to its website. More than half of business travellers use VPNs, and iBahn has certified more than 500 company networks. Its VPN services are used by companies and organisations including Bank of America, Microsoft and the US Army.
If hackers had managed to get inside iBahn's network, there are a few ways they could try to compromise executive's computers, experts said.
One way would be to create a fake log-in page for the hotel broadband network, said Roel Schouwenberg, senior researcher at security vendor Kaspersky Lab.
That log-in page could be rigged to deliver an attack known as a drive-by download, where the web page delivers various attacks that look for a software vulnerability in the computer's web browser or other software, Schouwenberg said. If a computer's web browser does not have up-to-date patches, it may be possible to infect the computer with malicious software.
The infected computer then poses an additional risk later. "You end up bringing something back to the corporate network that first of all is difficult to find and second of all the attacker then has these vantage points inside the network and can start infecting machines," said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO for Qualys.
The potential for these kinds of problems are not unique to merely hotel broadband networks but to any networks used outside of a company, whether it be in an airport or cafe.
The best advice is to always use a VPN, and if possible for a website, an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encrypted connection. Although there are advanced attacks against SSL, including fraudulently issued digital certificates, it is a good, base-level security practice.
"A VPN is the best way to go," Schouwenberg said.