Marriott's Starwood database hacked, 500m guests may be affected

The massive data breach could cost Marriott hundreds of millions of dollars in legal costs.
The massive data breach could cost Marriott hundreds of millions of dollars in legal costs.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Marriott International said yesterday that a guest reservation database of its Starwood Hotel brand was breached, potentially exposing information on about 500 million guests going as far back as 2014.

The company, which runs more than 6,700 properties and is the world's largest hotel chain, said it was informed in September about an attempt to access the database.

An investigation this month revealed that unauthorised access had been made on or before Sept 10. The investigation also found that an "unauthorised party had copied and encrypted information, and taken steps towards removing it", Marriott said in a statement.

The company said it had taken steps to rectify the situation. It did not identify who the perpetrators might be.

For about 327 million of those guests, the information in the database includes some combination of name, mailing address, phone number, e-mail address, passport number, Starwood preferred guest account information, date of birth, and gender, among other personal details, Marriott said.

For some, the information also includes payment card numbers and expiration dates, but those numbers were encrypted.

APOLOGY

We deeply regret this 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 learnt to be better moving forward.

MR ARNE SORENSON, Marriott's president and chief executive officer.

There are two components needed to decrypt the payment card numbers and Marriott said it has not been able to rule out the possibility that both were stolen.

The company said it has reported the incident to law enforcement and has already begun notifying the regulatory authorities.

"We deeply regret this incident," Mr Arne Sorenson, Marriott's president and chief executive officer, said. "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 learnt to be better moving forward."

The company said it has set up a dedicated website and call centre to deal with questions guests might have about their personal information and has notified regulatory and legal authorities.

Marriott said it would try to reach affected customers. The attack may rank only below Yahoo as one of the biggest hacks of personal data.

Yahoo suffered a 2013 security breach that exposed data of all three billion of its users at the time.

"The (Marriott) breach is so big that the company may face a large fine from the authorities and the market is factoring that in," said Mr Juan Jose Fernandez Figares, chief analyst at Link Securities in Madrid.

"This is yet another company that has been hit by a hacking and a reminder to any company that manages customers' personal data that they need to work harder to protect them from future attacks."

Marriott bought Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide two years ago for US$13.6 billion (S$18.7 billion). The merger brought brands such as Westin, W, Four Points, Sheraton and St Regis under the same roof.

The breach could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in legal costs. In recent weeks, the company has also been grappling with strikes by thousands of workers, who walked out of 49 hotels in nine cities to call for better healthcare, wages and protection from sexual harassment.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2018, with the headline 'Marriott's Starwood database hacked, 500m guests may be affected'. Print Edition | Subscribe