Austrian hotel ditching key cards after hack

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This photo, dated Dec. 2016, shows the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a hotel in the Austrian Alps at Turracher Hoehe. The hotel’s management says it is ditching its electronic room cards for the old-fashioned locks and keys after being repeatedly targeted by hackers. One recent intrusion resulted in new guests being briefly unable to access their rooms. (Seehotel Jaegerwirt via AP)

PARIS (AP) — An Austrian luxury hotel is ditching electronic room cards for old-fashioned locks and keys after having its systems frozen by blackmail-hungry hackers.

The management of Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, in the Austrian Alps, said Tuesday that they’ve been repeatedly targeted by cybercriminals. One recent infection with ransom software — on Dec. 6 — resulted in a complete shutdown of hotel computers. The hotel had to pay 1,500 euros (nearly $1,600) worth of the electronic currency bitcoin to restore their network, according to Christina Brandstaetter, who runs the hotel along with her husband, Christoph.

“When the hackers got the money, they unlocked the computers, making them all run as normal again,” she said in a written statement.

The story of the hotel’s hack was widely shared after several publications incorrectly reported that the ransomware resulted in guests being locked into or out of their rooms.

But Brandstaetter said that the infection only resulted in new guests being unable to get keys to their rooms for “a couple hours.” New arrivals were treated to champagne and went skiing or hiking in the meantime, she said.

Cybercriminals are still targeting the hotel, Brandstaetter said. The spate of electronic intrusions has prompted the hotel to upgrade and compartmentalize its network. Most dramatically, she said the hotel would eventually return to the lock-and-key system “as in times of our grandfathers.”

Ransomware infections are growing at galloping rate. Last year, European police agency Europol said it had eclipsed other forms of online theft. Officials are trying to put a stop to ransom payments , but they’re up against powerful incentives to give in — and the notion that everyone else is, too.

“Every euro paid to blackmailers hurts,” Brandstaetter said. “We know that other colleagues have been attacked, who have done similarly.”