Why Airbnb Users And Hosts Must Beware Of WiFi Risks

At Black Hat, a researcher details how both naive users and hosts of the popular accommodation sharing service could be at risk

Airbnb has emerged in recent years to become a popular option for both those seeking accommodations and those looking to provide their homes and apartments as a place to stay for travelers.

A common feature of most Airbnb rentals is WiFi access, but providing that connectivity might well come with risks for both the person providing the space and the guest, according to a Black Hat USA talk scheduled for Aug. 4 in Las Vegas.

In an interview with eWEEK ahead of the talk, titled “AirBnBeware: Short Term Rentals Long Term Pwnage,” security researcher Jeremy Galloway from Atlassian provided details about the risks that he sees for Airbnb WiFi users.

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Airbnb Wi-Fi risk

airbnb openGalloway was quick to point out that the flaws he is discussing in his talk are not in any software or technology that Airbnb itself provides, but rather in how renters and guests make use of WiFi. Galloway said that Airbnb has become so popular that the attack surface that potentially risky WiFi access represents shouldn’t be ignored.

In many Airbnb rentals, there is WiFi access much as there is any major hotel chain, though Galloway argued that the risk is far greater than at a hotel, as consumer-grade devices are being used, often without any thought of secure deployment.

With Airbnb, Galloway said that a big risk is from what he refers to as the “Average Paper Clip” (APT) threat. A guest could potentially walk over to a host’s WiFi access point, stick a paper clip in the reset hole and gain full access to the device, without restrictions.

“We’re now allowing people into our homes and onto our networks with millions of Airbnb locations, so that’s millions of networks that are able to be completely compromised,” he said.

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Short term rentals, long term pwnage

If a guest is able to get full control of a WiFi access point, he or she could potentially install malware on the device and can perform a wide range of attacks. A malicious guest potentially could also conduct a man-in-the-middle attack, gaining access to all of a network’s traffic and having the ability to redirect traffic to malicious sites.

Given that guests in Airbnb locations are usually there for short-term stays, the next guest could be at risk from malware implanted by a malicious guest. There is also the potential that a host has placed some form of monitoring software or malware on the network that could be a risk to users, though Galloway doesn’t expect that most hosts would have any intention of hacking their own customers.

Galloway emphasized that the risks to WiFi networks are not unique to Airbnb; that said, to date those risks have been overlooked or simply not understood, he believes.

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As a top-level recommendation for Airbnb hosts, Galloway suggests that they remove physical access to their WiFi access points. That is, instead of leaving the WiFi router out in the open, he suggests putting it in a locked room or a secured cabinet.

“Using an enclosure and restricting access to a WiFi router keeps honest users honest,” he said. “But if someone is dedicated to attacking you, they will.”

For users, Galloway suggests the use of a virtual private network (VPN) that will create a secure tunnel for them over a network and limit the risk of a WiFi network that may have been tampered with.

In addition, Galloway suggests that as part of an Airbnb welcome guide for users as well as hosts, there should be a sentence or two about online security and reminding users to stay safe.

Originally published on eWeek