How safe are hotel keys?

Those who use hotels frequently will no doubt have witnessed that deflating  feeling when late in the evening you arrive back to your room, place the by-now familiar credit-type key card in the lock swipe mechanism to find that nothing happens. You then go through the motions of inserting the card in the reverse way around, yet still nothing happens. No green light to indicate access to your room.

You then find you have to trek down the corridor to the lift back to reception to report it. It is often no use the concierge simply accompanying you back to the room with the master card-key, because in many hotels – particularly those that are more environmentally conscious – you need the key card to operate the room’s electricity supply.

It can easily occur, because the room access is gained simply through the information on the magnetic strip on the card, and for one reason or another, this can sometimes become corrupt.

Now to be fair, this doesn’t happen every day, but when it does it is at best a total inconvenience. However, you only have to mention “a card with a magnetic strip”, and you can often add “hacker” into the same sentence. There are some extremely clever, yet at the same time very devious people are out there to make a quick buck anyway they can. And it hasn’t taken long for them to target the humble hotel ‘electronic’ room key card.

It has been reported that a security researcher in the United States, Cody Brocious, constructed a portable programming device out of cheaply and easily available components that can mimic the system used by hotels to operate the master key-card to open hotel door rooms.

It appears that he discovered vulnerabilities in the card system while working for a company themselves starting up in the hotel electronic door-lock market.

Now this is not intended to panic those who stay in hotel rooms. And this is not to say that hotels don’t take their security any less seriously than serviced apartments do.

It is intended simply as an alert to those who might have more baggage, and subsequently more valuables with them, should they spend an extended stay in a hotel using this type of security for their room door entry system. A hotel, with a hundred or, as is often the case, more rooms that can be targeted by the opportunist thief is a much more attractive target than a block with just 12 individually and securely dead-lock-doored apartments.

This is one of several reasons extended-stay serviced apartments tend to be safer than hotel rooms. The computer hacker’s knowledge of PCs and software is of absolutely no use to assist them with breaking into an apartment that utilises a modern, traditional, door dead-lock! No amount of what the computing boffins call “reverse engineering” will enable them access through their illegal electronic activity!

And in a well-lit serviced apartment lobby, there are no ‘crowds’ a hacker can hide amongst as they try to spot someone being a little less careful than they really should be when looking after their room access key card.

It’s all about reducing the risk by making it more difficult for the thief. The higher levels of personal security afforded by the serviced apartment make it altogether more ideal for the lone, extended-stay traveller.

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Lucy Rose

A Marketing Specialist working for Clarendon Serviced Apartments, a dedicated provider of serviced apartments in London for over 25 years. My passion lies in writing about accommodation, travel and all things London.

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