An Austrian hotel manager who went public with the fact that he had been blackmailed four times into paying a Bitcoin ransom to cybercriminals has been praised for speaking out.
The story of how hackers took control of the hotel’s room locks ended up being reported all over the world from CNN and Newsweek through to The Times, CNBC, Yahoo News UK, The Verge, Gizmodo, IB Times, The Register, PC Magazine, Softpedia News, Forbes, Daily Star, the Huffington Post and The Sun to name but a few.
With relatively small amounts of money involved for most businesses that fall victim to the criminals, it is believed that thousands of firms are falling prey to the cyber criminals, but that they prefer to stay silent rather than suffer public embarrassment.
But after the manager of the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a luxurious four-star hotel with a beautiful lakeside setting on the Alpine Turracher Hoehe Pass in Austria, was hit a fourth time by the blackmailers he decided to go public with what happened to warn others of the dangers of cybercrime.
Managing Director Christoph Brandstaetter said he was speaking out because he wanted to see more done to tackle cybercriminals, as this sort of activity is set to get worse.
His hotel, like many others, has a modern IT system which includes key cards for hotel doors and in the latest incident cybercriminals had again hacked into his system and managed to take down the entire key system. The guests could no longer get into their hotel rooms and new key cards could not be programmed.
The attack, which coincided with the opening weekend of the winter season, was allegedly so massive that it even shut down all hotel computers, including the reservation system and the cash desk system.
The hackers promised to restore the system quickly if just 1,500 EUR (1,272 GBP) in the largely untraceable electronic currency known as Bitcoin was paid to them.
Brandstaetter said: “The house was totally booked with 180 guests, we had no other choice. Neither police nor insurance help you in this case.”
“The restoration of our system after the first attack in summer cost us several thousand Euros. We did not get any money from the insurance so far because none of those to blame could be found.”
The manager said it was cheaper and faster for the hotel to just pay the Bitcoin.
Brandstaetter said: “Every euro that is paid to blackmailers hurts us. We know that other colleagues have been attacked, who have done similarly.”
When the hackers got the money, they unlocked the key registry system and all other computers, making them all run as normal again.
The Seehotel Jaegerwirt, which has existed for 111 years, also has another, innovative, trick in store to keep the hackers out for good.
Brandstaetter said: “We are planning at the next room refurbishment for old-fashioned door locks with real keys. Just like 111 years ago at the time of our great-grandfathers.”
Using Bitcoin for cybercriminal activities is becoming increasingly commonplace, as tracing payments is much harder due to the way the cryptocurrency works.