4 min read

Last week, a popular Hospitality company, Marriott International, unveiled details about a massive data breach, which exposed the personal and financial information of its customers. According to Marriott, this breach was happening over the past four years and collected information about customers who made reservations in its Starwood subsidiary.

The information which was subject to the breach included details of approximately 500 million guests. For approximately 327 million of these guests, the information breached includes a combination of name, mailing address, phone number, email address, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest (“SPG”) account information, date of birth, gender, arrival and departure information, reservation date, and communication preferences.

The four-year-long breach that hit Marriott’s customer data

Marriott, on September 8, 2018, received an alert from an internal security tool which reported that attempts had been taken to access the Starwood guest reservation database in the United States. Following this, Marriott carried out an investigation which revealed that their Starwood network had been accessed by attackers since 2014.

According to Marriott’s news center, “On November 19, 2018, the investigation determined that there was unauthorized access to the database, which contained guest information relating to reservations at Starwood properties* on or before September 10, 2018.”

For some users out of the 500 million, the information includes payment card details such as numbers and expiration dates. However,  “the payment card numbers were encrypted using Advanced Encryption Standard encryption (AES-128). There are two components needed to decrypt the payment card numbers, and at this point, Marriott has not been able to rule out the possibility that both were taken. For the remaining guests, the information was limited to name and sometimes other data such as mailing address, email address, or other information”, stated the Marriott News release.

Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s President, and Chief Executive Officer said, “We will continue to support the efforts of law enforcement and to work with leading security experts to improve.  Finally, we are devoting the resources necessary to phase out Starwood systems and accelerate the ongoing security enhancements to our network”. Marriott also reported this incident to law enforcement and are notifying regulatory authorities.

This is not the first time Starwood data was breached

Marriott hoteliers did not exactly mention when the breach hit them four years ago in 2014. However, its subsidiary Starwood revealed that, a few days after being acquired by Marriott, more than 50 of Starwood’s properties were breached in November 2015. According to Starwood’s disclosure at the time, that earlier breach stretched back at least one year, i.e., November 2014.

According to Krebs on Security, “Back in 2015, Starwood said the intrusion involved malicious software installed on cash registers at some of its resort restaurants, gift shops and other payment systems that were not part of its guest reservations or membership systems.”

In Dec. 2016, KrebsOnSecurity stated, “banks were detecting a pattern of fraudulent transactions on credit cards that had one thing in common: They’d all been used during a short window of time at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) properties, including Holiday Inns and other popular chains across the United States.”

Marriott said that its own network has not been affected by this four-year data breach and that the investigation only identified unauthorized access to the separate Starwood network.

“Marriott is providing its affected guests in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom a free year’s worth of service from WebWatcher, one of several companies that advertise the ability to monitor the cybercrime underground for signs that the customer’s personal information is being traded or sold”, said Krebs on Security.

What should compromised users do?

Companies affected by the breach or as a defense measure pay threat hunters to look out for new intrusions. They can even test their own networks and employees for weaknesses, and arrange for a drill in order to combat their breach response preparedness.

For individuals who re-use the same password should try using password managers, which helps remember strong passwords/passphrases and essentially lets you use the same strong master password/passphrase across all Web sites.

According to a Krebs on Security’s “assume you’re compromised” philosophy “involves freezing your credit files with the major credit bureaus and regularly ordering free copies of your credit file from annualcreditreport.com to make sure nobody is monkeying with your credit (except you).”

Rob Rosenberger, Co-founder of Vmyths, urged everyone who booked a room at their properties since 2014 by tweeting advice that the affected users should change their mother’s maiden name and the social security number soon.

To know more about the Marriott breach in detail, visit Marriott’s official website.

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