Marriott breach exposes data of up to 500 million
Crisis emerges as one of the biggest hacks on record
NEW YORK — Hackers stole information on as many as 500 million guests of the Marriott hotel empire over four years, obtaining credit card and passport numbers and other personal data, the company said Friday as it acknowledged one of the largest security breaches in history.
The full scope of the failurewas not clear. Marriottwas trying to determine if the records included duplicates, such as a single person staying multiple times.
It was also unclear what hackers could do with the credit card information. Though it was stored in encrypted form, itwas possible that hackers also obtained the two components needed to descramble the numbers, the company said.
The crisis emerged as one of the largest data breaches on record. By comparison, last year’s Equifax hack affectedmore than 145 million people.
A Target breach in 2013 affected more than 41 million payment card accounts and exposed contact information for more than 60 million customers.
Security analysts were alarmed to learn that the breach began in 2014. While such failures often span months, four years is extreme, said Yonatan Striem-Amit, chief technology officer of Cybereason.
The affected hotel brands were operated by Starwood before it was acquired by Marriott in 2016. They include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin, Element, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, Le Meridien and Four Points.
Starwood-branded timeshare properties were also included.
None of the Marriottbranded chains were threatened.
For as many as twothirds of those affected, the exposed data could include mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and passport numbers. Also included might be dates of birth, gender, reservation dates, arrival and departure times, and Starwood Preferred Guest account information.
“We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves,” CEO Arne Sorenson said.
Marriott set up awebsite and call center for customers who believe they are at risk.
The stolen information could be used by criminals to create fraudulent bank accounts.
It isn’t common for passport numbers to be part of a hack, but it is not unheard of. Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific Airways said in October that 9.4 million passengers’ information had been breached, including passport numbers.
Passport numbers are often requested by hotels outside the United States because U.S. driver’s licenses are not accepted there as identification.
And while the credit card industry can cancel accounts and issue new cards within days, it is a much more difficult process, often steeped in government bureaucracy, to get a new passport.
But one factor about passports is that they are often required to be seen in person, said Ryan Wilk of NuData Security.
“It’s a highly secure document with a lot of security features,” he said.
Email notifications for those who may have been affected were expected to begin rolling out Friday.
Marriott, based in Bethesda, Md., said in a regulatory filing that it was premature to estimate what financial impact the breach will have on the company. It noted that it does have cyber insurance.
Elected officials were quick to call for action.
The New York attorney general opened an investigation.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, co-founder of the Senate cybersecurity caucus and the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the U.S. needs laws that will limit the data that companies can collect on their customers.
Marriott said Friday that its Starwood database was hacked, compromising the private data of customers.