Q. My family and I will be traveling for the holidays and bringing most of our gadgets with us. Between us, there are three laptops, four phones and two tablets. I'm worried, though. I read on your Breaking Tech News page about thieves easily hacking into hotel rooms. We'd be out thousands if someone broke into our room! Is there any way I can protect our gadgets from this?
-Amy from Greeley, CO, listens to my national radio show on KFKA 1310 AM.
A. That's quite a collection of gadgets your family has, Amy! With all that value in your family's luggage, it makes perfect sense that you'd be afraid of that new hack.
If you don't know this scary story, a while back a hacker exposed a flaw in Onity-brand hotel locks. With about $50 in equipment, the hacker was able to pick the electronic locks with very little effort.
Other hackers have refined this method to an operation of just a few seconds. Some allegedly even used it for hotel break-ins in Texas.
Onity didn't take the problem seriously until after the burglaries. Even then, it's making hotels that use these locks - which account for anywhere from 4 million to 5 million locks nationwide - foot the bill for the fix. So don't expect a fast resolution.
It isn't all bad news for travelers, however. With the right security in place, you won't have to take your gadgets everywhere you go when you travel. You can safely keep them in your hotel room without worrying about them.
The first thing I'd tell anyone is that while gadgets are ultimately replaceable, your data is not. Make sure you're backing up your data so you don't lose any of it if someone steals your gear.
When you're booking a hotel, or if you've already booked one, ask if it uses Onity locks and whether or not they've been patched or replaced. Not all hotel chains use these locks and some have already upgraded or put in preventative measures.
If you're staying in a hotel with unpatched locks, ask the hotel about renting a safe for valuables - the hotel might give you a discount if you stress your concern about its door security. You can put your tablets and laptops there when you're out and about.
For smaller electronics and other valuables, take a look at this garment safe from my store. It hides inside a button-up shirt or other hanging garment. Thieves in a rush won't think to check it.
I also sell this strong laptop lock. Not many hotel thieves carry around bolt cutters, so your laptop will be secure.
Though these are all good deterrents, a dedicated thief may still be able to grab your gadgets.
Before you take your trip, you can install software to help you track a stolen gadget. Prey is a great choice on both laptops and mobile gadgets. You'll find a few more free options in this useful column.
A thief isn't all you have to worry about. Hackers and scammers would love to sneak a virus onto your gadget. Here are a few ways to prevent that.