Computerworld Discovers Hotel Keycard Myth Is, Indeed, A Myth

from the crack-reporting dept

Last September we were quite surprised to see a Computerworld reporter place a story on his blog warning people that hotels were putting personal info on the keycards that let you into rooms. As we pointed out, that story was an extremely well-known urban legend that had been debunked repeatedly by many sources. As such, it seemed odd that anyone would report it again without getting plenty of evidence to back it up. The reporter in question, Robert Mitchell, defended the posting in our comments, but also set out to collect as many of these keycards as he could, while discussing the issue with plenty of industry insiders so he could write an actual article on it. Shocker of all shockers, he discovered that, as everyone expected, it’s just a key to your room and stores absolutely no personal data. In other words, exactly what pretty much everyone knew before — which is why it’s a bit amusing to see the Computerworld sub-head claim that it’s “exploding the urban myth.” Next up: Computerworld will tell us that Bill Gates really isn’t paying people to send email. Meanwhile, it’s still quite odd that Mitchell’s original source, Peter Wallace, IT Director at AAA Reading-Berks in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, now refuses to comment at all on his original claims that resulted in this wild goose chase. Of course, thanks to the ongoing life of this story, hotels are actively looking at alternatives, because they’re sick of explaining to people that there’s nothing to worry about.


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Comments on “Computerworld Discovers Hotel Keycard Myth Is, Indeed, A Myth”

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28 Comments
Ed says:

Re: A single point of failure...

Typical of today’s reporters. Sensationalism is all that matters anymore. There are no consequences for yellow journalism. For example – ESPN’s article where they assumed everything Maurice Clarett said about Ohio State (et al) was true w/o substantiating ANY of it. Now that Clarett’s true colors have been revealed, where is the apology/retraction from ESPN?

It’s getting to the point where you can’t trust much through the media. It is a real shame.

nils (user link) says:

Why would the hotels do so anyway?

What would the point be of putting personal info on the keycards? You are linked to the room in their DB anyway. What possible benefit would they have from adding personal info to the card?
Sometimes, if people were to just use their brains even a little bit, they could save themselves a lot of hassle.

Anonymous for a Reason says:

Majority of the Stupid...

I work maintenance at a fairly high-end hotel and I code/re-code cards all the time for housekeeping, guests, etc. The system is for opening doors, that’s it, sheesh. There’s no place in the firmware for any other info. It is a STATIC system.

If anybody is so worried about such a thing, stick the card in the same pocket as your cellphone for a minute and see what happens.

Just an IT junkie with a monkey says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Majority of the Stupid...

I’m not sure I can agree 100% with you guys. I do agree that there probably is no personal information on the card at most hotels but I just recently went to vegas and stayed at Paris’ daddy’s hotel. The room key can be used to pay for pretty much everything. They have little terminals at the bar to stick your room key into so that you can charge things to your room. And ironically enough (and this is why I think that there is more to this than people are looking at) if you don’t put down a credit card for your room, you can’t use the room key to pay for crap at the hotel……

It is probably just charging it to your room number and there could be something as simple as a code in the database whether you have a card or not but I can definitely understand how this thing got started and it will proceed to keep going.

Just some guy says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Majority of the Stupid...

Why is this a problem again? Obviously they are simply charging it to your room based on the card telling them what room you are in.

People just like to get upset over crap like this. The point is that whatever info is on the card, it’s only relevant to the hotel’s computer door or billing system. It doesn’t have your credit card number or any other generally useful info on it. Even if you could read the info on the card I doubt it would tell you anything without access to the hotel’s database.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No Subject Given

yeeeeeeeaaaaaah, ok…… do any of u have anything important to say? (this includes Mike, of course, who ALWAYS feels he’s got something to say… and ur fukking “department”s are dumb as shit.. who the fuck has the time to manage all those fucking departments? oh wait, nobody gives a shit about techdirt…. which came from techmud, im guessing…)

CharlesGriswold says:

Re: Re: Re: No Subject Given

*puts sunglasses on*

*FLASH*

Nothing to see here, people. Hotel key cards just let you into your room. Have a nice day.

Seriously, though, I’ve worked as a hotel desk clerk, and the magnetic key cards just let you into your room. I mean really, what would be the point of (for instance) letting the room locks know what the guests’ credit card number is? So the locks can do the billing?

Not paranoid says:

Re: umm, not so sure

but why would they do it? What possible use would it be to encode that on a door card?

I could see that perhaps once upon a time some hotel’s new card software might have defaulted to include more info than necessary but the bottom line is that there is NO PROOF that hotels put any information that anyone need be concerned about, and indeed rarely if ever more than a code that lets you in your room.

Yet…like most good myths…in the face of facts and lack of proof the supporters of this won’t let it die.

OBM (profile) says:

What's on that key....

many years back I worked for a major European hotel chain implementing a new door key system in one of their flagship hotels.

the system was incredibly smart (and yup, expensive) but allowed the guest to provide any ‘standard’ mag swipe card with a 2-3 track strip and we’d use that rather than issuing a key (less chance of them loosing it!)

it also allowed us to easily issue several keys for a room, use on key for multiple rooms and put some pretty smart rules in place (eg Mum and Dad could open the mini-bar with their credit card, but junior with a hotel issued key couldn’t, the parents could access the rooftop pool after 8pm and junior couldn’t).

we didn’t have the actual values flying round the network but an encrypted hash key (quicker for checking and applying rules) and we did basic checks to ensure the same hash wasn’t active for more than one guest at a time.

some guests didn’t like it… so we continued to issue our own keys in those cases. some guests loved it. we found the system to be a pleasure because we got less issues with the guests losing or mis-treating the keys (and argued less about auxilliary charges because they where less likely to let the key out of sight). sadly the system was too expensive to justify rolling out outside the one flagship property… I wonder if it’s still in use…

Gilmartin says:

re; keys having info stored on them.

How could they store your info,duh, the keys are reswiped and changed in most bigger motels/hotels,
so your info would be wiped off even if it were on there. Which it isn’t, Am more concerned with
Geisinger that stores computer with “all ” your data
on it and then loses them and said”Maybe the thief
stealing from a computer record holding storage building does not know what they got,” Ha Ha, fat chance. Lots more to worry abought there.

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