One of Europe's top hotels has admitted they had to pay thousands in Bitcoin ransom to cybercriminals who managed to hack their electronic key system, locking hundreds of guests out of their rooms until the money was paid. (Updated)
Furious hotel managers at the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a luxurious 4-star hotel with a beautiful lakeside setting on theAlpineTurracher Hoehe Pass in Austria, said they decided to go public with what happened to warn others of the dangers of cybercrime.
And they said they wanted to see more done to tackle cybercriminals as this sort of activity is set to get worse. The hotel has a modern IT system which includes key cards for hotel doors, like many other hotels in the industry.
Hotel management said that they have now been hit three times by cybercriminals who this time 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 Bitcoin was paid to them.
Managing Director Christoph 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 has 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.
Yet according to the hotel, the hackers left a back door open in the system, and tried to attack the systems again.
On the fourth attempt the hackers had however no chance because the computers had been replaced and the latest security standards integrated, and some networks had been decoupled.
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.
By Koen Berghuis / Story courtesy of Central European News
Correction: Due to a misunderstanding, it was stated that guests were locked in their rooms. This was not the case, as guests were free to leave at any time, however they were unable to re-enter their rooms. The story has been edited accordingly.