Computer hackers targeting hotel guests. Tourists' free Wi-Fi in Japan. Caveat re photo-sharing buildings.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the February 2015 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 468th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine. That’s one issue per month for 39 years! We must be doing something right.

Ken Wadland of Albion, Rhode Island, thinks so. That’s him in the above photo proudly holding a copy of our November issue… in Croatia.

Judy Serie Nagy of San Francisco, California, is another fan of ITN. She wrote, “I do believe that ‘Adapting to a Change in Plans to Explore the Magnificent Landscape of New Zealand’ (Nov. ’14, pg. 44) is one of the most charming articles I’ve ever read.

“Donna Altes has a unique ability to get the most out of every moment. Her driving on the left by herself impressed me no end… and I consider myself a brave traveler. Donna’s words create very detailed mental images, and I hope she writes more of them.”

Jim Royle of San Diego, California, wrote, “The series of articles on import duties in the December 2014 and January 2015 ‘Discerning Traveler’ column is outstanding and extremely helpful.” 

The third and last part of that series appears in this issue.

Mr. Royle added, “If not already in the plans, I would like to suggest merging the three installments into a single article and posting that on the ITN website for future reference, making it easier than having to find and download three separate issues to get all the info.”

Will do! We welcome suggestions.

Whether looking through copies of past issues or visiting our website and plugging place names or tour company names into the search bar to bring up travelers’ reports and news items, many subscribers find ITN a helpful tool when trip planning.

Here are a few news items to get you started. I’ve added an explanation to the beginning of the first one.


On their laptop computers, tablets and smartphones, many people use Wi-Fi. Unlike a wired connection, which requires a computer to be plugged into the Internet through a wall jack, Wi-Fi allows a person whose device has Wi-Fi capability to wirelessly connect to the Internet wherever a Wi-Fi signal can be picked up. 

Private Wi-Fi networks often are password protected, while those in public locations, known as hotspots, are available to everyone. Hotspots can be found in cafés, bookstores, hotel lobbies or other locations where people congregate with their devices.

I described all of that to get to this.

Hotel guests in several countries have been targeted by a particularly proficient group of hackers dubbed DarkHotel, aka Tapaoux.

DarkHotel has been closely watched for years by Kaspersky Lab, a private computer security firm based in Russia, but the identities and ultimate motives of the hackers remain unknown. What the firm has become very familiar with is how the group operates.

DarkHotel monitors hotel Internet connections, waiting for a person of interest to them to sign on. When the hotel guest connects to the hotel’s Wi-Fi network, a DarkHotel hacker will try to get the victim to download, onto his laptop, backdoor software — programs that give the hacker complete and anonymous access to the computer — by disguising the software as part of the hotel’s Internet software or as an update for a trusted program. 

As part of the deception, DarkHotel hackers use stolen “digital certificates” (cryptographic signatures that tell a computer that the software is what it claims to be) that trick a computer’s antivirus and firewall software into thinking that their programs are coming from a safe source.

Once the backdoor software is installed, DarkHotel hackers are able to install onto the infected computer even more malicious programs that allow them to get password and account information. 

About 90% of all infections have been traced back to luxury hotels in China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, but they are not limited to those areas or those types of hotels. 

Though most victims are high-ranking people in any of various industries (electronics, investment capital, automotive, military, etc.), Kaspersky warns that attacks are, at times, indiscriminate and that anyone logging in to a hotel network is at risk. 

Even if your computer has nothing that might interest a DarkHotel hacker, the malicious software that is installed can allow further attacks from other hackers and identity thieves. 

DarkHotel software can stay dormant for months before activating, so it may not always be clear to victims when or where their devices were targeted. 

There are some ways to protect your computer from invasion from groups like DarkHotel. First, never accept any pop-ups that appear when you sign on to a public network either by plugging in or connecting through Wi-Fi, even if they seem legitimate. If you encounter a message from your hotel, ask the front desk if it is actually from the hotel. 

Be especially aware of pop-ups that claim your computer is slow or infected with viruses and that instruct you to download software. These warnings are almost always false.

One thing you can do to help protect your computer on a public network is use the most stringent security settings. 

To do this on a pre-Windows 7 computer, in the Start Menu go to “Control Panel,” then click on “Security,” then turn your Internet security level to its highest setting. 

On a Windows 7 or later operating system, in the Control Panel window go to “System and Security” and raise your security level to the highest setting, which should prevent a program from being installed on your computer without your express permission. And, of course, you will want to keep your firewall activated.

On a Mac, for OS X Snow Leopard and later systems, go to “System Preferences” and click on “Security.” In this menu you will be able to configure your firewall to its most secure settings.

When you connect to the Internet on a new network, your computer will ask you whether this is a trusted “home network” or a “public network.” If you choose “public,” your computer will use stronger security settings. 

Note: In any case, you should never share personal information — such as your Social Security number or credit card information — over public networks or even on in-room hotel networks. 


Now that you know the safeguards, those of you planning to visit Japan may find the following of interest.

In Japan in June 2014, several municipalities, mostly in the east and north, teamed up with a number of sponsoring companies to introduce a service that gives tourists up to 14 days of unlimited free Wi-Fi at more than 200,000 previously pay-for-use locations in places like restaurants and teahouses. 

When you visit Japan, you now can access the free Wi-Fi in two ways. You can download the NAVITIME app onto your iPhone or Android phone, through which you can log in to participating public Wi-Fi hotspots on your phone. 

The other way to gain access is to obtain a special “Free Wi-Fi” access card that has login information. The cards can be found at Travelex locations and at Isetan Mitsukoshi, Keio and Daimaru Sapporo department stores as well as at 25 hotels and tourist information kiosk locations in Hokkaido, the To¯hoku region and the greater Tokyo area and at the New Chitose Airport and Narita Airport. 

Downloadable maps showing places where the cards can be obtained as well as the locations of participating hotspots can be found at

Detailed instructions on how to use the card, including screenshots of the login webpages, can be found at


Are you heading to Paris? Here’s a heads-up.

Taking photos or video of the Eiffel Tower at night and sharing or distributing them on public photo-sharing websites or using them for any commercial purpose is prohibited.

Though the iconic tower is in the public domain (its image, itself, is not under copyright) and while pictures taken during daytime are free from any restrictions, the elaborate light show shown on the tower at night is considered to be a work of art, therefore the sharing of any videos or photographs of it requires permission from the artist. 

As it says on the tower’s website (, “Daytime views from the Eiffel Tower are rights free. However, its various illuminations are subject to author’s rights as well as brand rights.”

This warning is meant to prevent professional and commercial photographers from profiting from using images of the light show. However, uploading a video to YouTube or any image onto Facebook or onto an online public photo album could, in a liberal sense, be considered distribution. 

The owner of the copyright could ask the person who posted the image or ask the website hosting it to remove it, but, where no money is being earned from the image, it would be hard to believe that the Eiffel Tower light-show artist would prosecute someone for sharing a picture or video of the show on Facebook. 

Be aware that not every landmark is in the public domain. Also, around the world, many buildings are copyrighted and, thus, are protected from having photos, videos or likenesses of them published or distributed.

While a 2001 directive from the European Union’s Information Society (its Internet advocacy group) stated that photographs of architectural works in public places should be free of copyright, France, Belgium, Italy and a few others all refused to enact such rules. 

Among many locations with strict copyright laws are Brazil’s national parks (no photographs taken in national parks may be used without permission), the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (in a cityscape is OK but no isolated images), Peterhof Grand Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia (only photographs taken of the exterior while off site can be used) and Château de Chillon in Veytaux, Switzerland.

An always-being-updated list of copyrighted structures, including rules for photographers, can be found at  

This is just something to keep in mind if you ever plan on publishing an illustrated book of your adventures.


A CORRECTION to note —

Harry Pearson of Cape Canaveral, Florida, read “The Funniest Thing” in the December 2014 issue, about a feature on a rifle in The Gordon Highlanders Museum near Aberdeen, Scotland, and wrote, “A metal jacket along the length of the barrel of a gun is for cooling when repeat firing. It is not a silencer, which would be placed on the END of the barrel.”

Mr. Pearson added, “The comment about the bagpipes and drums stands in any case. Old story — ‘Why did the Black Watch, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, never retreat? Because they placed the pipes at the rear’.”


Each year, we offer subscribers a chance to win prizes simply for informing us of which countries they traveled to in the previous calendar year.

It’s helpful for us to follow the trends in travel destinations. More importantly, the results are valuable in wooing potential advertisers to ITN, and that’s of value to you, too, because the more ads there are in an issue of ITN, the more pages we can print.

So take a moment to write up a list of the nations you visited anytime from January 1 to December 31, 2014, and e-mail it to or send it by post to Where Were You in 2014?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing address (where you receive ITN); this contest is open to subscribers only.

We need to receive your list by April 30, 2015, in order for your name to be included in the random drawings for prizes. Results of the poll, along with the names of the prizewinners, will be announced in the July issue.

It’s easy. What countries did you visit last year?


One of our subscribers, Jeanne Kiley, wrote, “I recently joined the Indianapolis Travel & Culture Club ( At our dinner meeting in October there were 16 members in attendance and I told them about ITN. I suggested that they go online to see what I was telling them about, but I was wondering if you could send me a few copies of the magazine to distribute at the November meeting.”

We sent Jeanne a number of back issues. With advance notice, we can do the same for you. Write to or to our offices in Sacramento. There’s news to share.