If you have stayed at a hotel recently, you may be one of millions worldwide to have had personal details accessed after hackers spent four years mining a booking database belonging to Marriott International, which owns chains including Sheraton and Westin.
In a statement on its website dated 30 November 2018, US-headquartered Marriott International revealed that its Starwood reservation database had been compromised, with as many as 500 million people worldwide affected.
“On September 8, 2018, Marriott received an alert from an internal security tool regarding an attempt to access the Starwood guest reservation database in the United States. Marriott quickly engaged leading security experts to help determine what occurred,” the company said.
“Marriott learned during the investigation that there had been unauthorised access to the Starwood network since 2014. The company recently discovered that an unauthorised party had copied and encrypted information, and took steps towards removing it.
“On November 19, 2018, Marriott was able to decrypt the information and determined that the contents were from the Starwood guest reservation database.”
Marriott said that its investigations remain ongoing to determine the exact number of hotel guests who may have been impacted by the breach. However, the anticipated scale of affected customers dwarfs that of the 9.4 million passengers exposed by a data breach that hit airline Cathay Pacific in October.
“The company has not finished identifying duplicate information in the database, but believes it contains information on up to approximately 500 million guests who made a reservation at a Starwood property,” Marriott said.
“For approximately 327 million of these guests, the information includes some 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 company added: “For some, the information also includes payment card numbers and payment card expiration dates, but the payment card numbers were encrypted using Advanced Encryption Standard encryption (AES-128).”
Marriott’s president and CEO, Arne Sorenson, said that the company “deeply regrets” the incident.
“We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves. We are doing everything we can to support our guests, and using lessons learned to be better moving forward,” the CEO said.
“Today, Marriott is reaffirming our commitment to our guests around the world. We are working hard to ensure our guests have answers to questions about their personal information, with a dedicated website and call centre. We will also 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.”
Which hotels were impacted by the breach?
Despite Marriott International, the parent company of a number of hotel chains, operating Marriott Hotels, that chain uses a separate booking system and as such is not thought to be affected.
The Starwood Hotels and Resorts division includes a number of brands with a presence here in Australia and abroad, and includes:
• W Hotels
• St. Regis
• Sheraton Hotels & Resorts
• Four Points by Sheraton
• Westin Hotels & Resorts
• Element Hotels
• Aloft Hotels
• The Luxury Collection
• Tribute Portfolio
• Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts
• Design Hotels
• Starwood-branded timeshare properties
Who has been impacted?
According to a special website Marriott has set up regarding the data breach, anyone who made a booking at one of the above hotels on or before 10 September 2018 may have had their details accessed. Affected customers will be contacted directly by the company.
Marriott warned that affected guests may be targeted by phishing scams as a result of their data being compromised.
“We also want you to be aware that when other companies have provided notifications like this, other people used it to try to trick individuals into providing information about themselves through the use of links to fake websites (phishing) or by impersonating someone they trusted (social engineering).”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.