The pros and cons of digital room keys

Posted at 3:59 PM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-16 17:54:49-05

Dorinda Purvis has a lot to keep track of when she travels. One thing she’s glad she doesn’t have to worry about losing anymore? Her hotel key. Purvis explains, “I've been able to use an electronic key that you can access through your phone.”

Digital keys work through a hotel’s mobile app, typically paired with Bluetooth.  

It’s a technology in place at some major hotel chains. The high-tech keys allow you to skip the check-In process, give you instant access to your room when it’s ready and, of course, they eliminate those magnetic key cards. 

“I have a hard time keeping up with plastic key cards sometimes. A lot of times, too, they might lose their magnetism,” Purvis says.

Tech Security Expert Shawn Kanady says the convenience may come with risks.

Shawn’s company gets hired by hotels looking to secure their systems. He tries to hack the mobile keys to find, and fix, vulnerabilities before criminals do.

Kanady explains, “As your phone is close to the hardware lock, it's sending the key through Bluetooth technology. That transmission was captured via an antenna, and then, what the researchers did was they replayed that transmission to the lock, and were able to open the lock.”

Kanady explains his team also hacked in and changed some hotel administrator passwords.  “Once you have the administrator password it's game over for any application. At that point you can do whatever you want.”

Kanady stresses that he knows of no actual criminal hackings.

Marriott didn’t respond to our requests, but Hilton tells us, “…this innovation continues to provide a seamless and secure experience for our guests”, explaining there are safety mechanisms built into the system.

And Kanady says consumers can also help by removing any apps after they are done using them.

Purvis says, for her, convenience outweighs any potential risks. “I am notorious for losing the regular keys, so I really do enjoy the feature,” she says.