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September 23, 2019Cart

Business

by Fairfield County Business Journal
by FCBJ

Marriott data breach exposes personal info for a half-billion Starwood hotel guests

Marriott International said on Nov. 30 that a breach of its Starwood guest database has exposed information on 500 million people who made reservations at any of its properties. The company revealed that hacking of its system goes as far back as 2014.

Starwood headquarters in Stamford.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide moved its headquarters from White Plains to Stamford in 2012. Marriott International acquired Starwood in November 2015 for $13.6 billion.

Starwood brands include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Element Hotels, Aloft Hotels, The Luxury Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts, Four Points by Sheraton and Design Hotels. Marriott said that Starwood-branded timeshare properties are also included.

The company said it was alerted on Sept. 8 via an internal security software that an attempt was made to access the Starwood guest reservation database in the United States. It was during its investigation that the Bethesda-based company found that there had been “unauthorized access to the Starwood network since 2014.”

The hotel company said a hacker had copied and encrypted information and took steps towards removing it.  On Nov. 19Marriott said it was able to decrypt the information and found that the contents were from the Starwood guest reservation database.  

Marriott said for 327 million of the 500 million people exposed, the information includes some combination of name, mailing address, phone number, email address, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest account information, date of birth, gender, arrival and departure information, reservation date and communication preferences. 

For others, the company said, 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).”

According to Marriott,  “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 173 million people who made reservations, the information was limited to name and sometimes other data such as mailing address, email address, or other information. 

“We deeply regret this incident happened,” said Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s president and CEO. “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.”

“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 center.  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,” Sorenson said. 

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, said in a statement:

“Marriott’s failure to prevent the theft of private data has placed hundreds of millions of customers at significant personal and financial risk. The apparent failure to detect and remove hackers from its systems for four years calls into question whether Marriott took the security and privacy of its customers seriously. American consumers expect that companies entrusted with their credit card information, passport numbers, and other sensitive personal data are taking necessary measures to protect it from malicious actors.

“Once again, Americans are left to pay the substantial cost of corporate negligence. Congress must move forward to end this cycle of broken promises.  We must set clear consumer data protection standards for all companies — whether they’re hotel chains, online retailers, or big tech — and severe penalties for those who fall short.”

Marriott said it would begin sending emails starting today to affected guests whose email addresses are in the Starwood guest reservation database.

The company has also set up a dedicated website, info.starwoodhotels.com, to answer questions. In addition, it is also letting those affected to enroll for free in WebWatcher, which monitors sites where personal information is shared and sends an alert if a person’s information is found.

This article has been updated with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s comments.