Emerging threats to our (meetings and events) way of life: Part 1

18/03/2015 By James Bland

18 March, 2015.

Dear Mr Identity Thief

A panel on which I sat recently attempted to answer a question about what we saw as the biggest threats to our ‘way of life’ in the meetings industry as we know it.  Taking place just after the tragic attacks in Paris, it settled on terrorism and didn’t really look much further.

Without wanting to downplay the economic impact of terrorism – after all, it took hotels in the US about seven years to recover their rates after 9/11 – I don’t see that as a new threat.  It’s certainly significant, but it’s not new.

There are three emerging threats that I see on the horizon, and over the next three weeks I’ll tell you all about them (lucky you!)

Free Wi-Fi - but watch out

It feels like we’ve been banging on about free Wi-Fi forever.  There are still some hotel chains holding their ground and charging every single person who walks through the doors, but beyond those there’s a real mixture of those who offer it without charge to event organisers, those who offer it to all attendees and those who offer a basic level free, but charge for a higher bandwidth offer.

But how many hotels and venues have ever been asked for secure Wi-Fi, and furthermore been asked to demonstrate its security?

Information security is a really big thing – data protection, privacy, Facebook, Google, the right to be forgotten; you can’t move for concerns regarding privacy and integrity and yet, despite all that, we’re seemingly happy to use public access Wi-Fi to send emails, download attachments and view files, despite the fact that any Dave, Nick, Ed or Nigel could be logging on to the very same network.

The technology exists to do this.  At a recent event in London, white hat hackers set up a simulated “evil twin” Wi-Fi network and duped guests into believing they were logging onto a public access point.  Every bit of data exchanged via this network was intercepted, and anything that was passed was visible and accessible to the interceptors.  In this instance that included usernames and passwords for a well-known travel review site.

There’s always a media feeding frenzy if a civil servant falls asleep on a train and has a laptop stolen, or if a bank loses gigabytes of account holder data on a memory stick.  What happens if that gets stolen or intercepted via a hotel’s Wi-Fi?  Who gets sacked?  Who gets sued?  Are the terms and conditions robust enough – and clear enough – to make people understand the risks involved?  Even if they’re clear, are they legally enforceable?  There is potentially a time-bomb here.  Are planners and venues sufficiently prepared for something like this to happen on their watch?

Read Part 2 here, addressing the threat from the sharing economy.