In November 2018, Marriott International announced a massive data breach involving its subsidiary Starwood’s guest reservation database. It’s estimated that the personal information of around 500 million guests was compromised, making it one of the largest data breaches in history. The breach didn’t just impact a vast number of individuals, it also served as a stark reminder of the need for heightened cybersecurity vigilance across all sectors.
Intruders reportedly gained unauthorized access to the Starwood network as early as 2014. However, Marriott only detected suspicious activity on the network in September 2018, after its internal security tool flagged an attempt to access the Starwood database. A subsequent investigation revealed that the unauthorized access had been ongoing for four years, and that an abundance of sensitive customer data had been copied and encrypted by the intruders.
Marriott International announced that cyber thieves had stolen data on approximately 500 million customers. The breach actually occurred on systems supporting Starwood hotel brands back in 2014. The intrusion was not detected until 2018, two years after Marriott had acquired Starwood.
The stolen information included names, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, and in some cases, even payment card numbers and card expiration dates. The hackers were able to access a wide range of personal information, including ability to see the guest’s loyalty program status and hotel stays.The scale and duration of the breach point towards a significant lapse in Marriott’s cybersecurity measures, making this breach an important case study in the realm of information security.
Marriott took a number of steps to address the breach, including resetting the passwords of all affected guests and requiring them to change their passwords. The company also launched an investigation into the breach and said that it would be working to improve its security measures.
The Marriott Starwood data breach was one of the largest data breaches in history. It is a reminder that even the largest and most popular hotel chains are not immune to security breaches. The breach also highlighted the importance of strong security measures and user education.
From a cybersecurity expert’s perspective, several key lessons can be derived from this incident:
The perpetrators installed a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) and a MimiKatz-like tool, allowing them to move laterally within the network, escalate privileges, and ultimately gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.
The attackers were able to maintain persistence and evade detection for an extended period, which is common in Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks. They had access to the reservation database for Starwood’s hotels, and over time, they were able to exfiltrate customer data.
Early Detection is Crucial: The Marriott breach remained undetected for four years, which greatly amplified the scale of the incident. Implementing robust intrusion detection systems and regularly reviewing system logs can help organizations spot anomalies quickly and reduce the window of opportunity for hackers.
Regular Security Audits are Necessary: Comprehensive and regular security audits are a must for any organization dealing with sensitive customer data. They can help identify vulnerabilities before they are exploited and assess the effectiveness of the current security measures.
Thorough Due Diligence During Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A): The breach began two years before Marriott acquired Starwood. This underscores the importance of conducting thorough cybersecurity due diligence during the M&A process to identify any existing security issues.
Importance of Data Encryption: Encrypting sensitive data can render it useless in the hands of intruders. However, in Marriott’s case, the attackers managed to also steal the encryption keys. This highlights the need for strong encryption practices and safeguarding encryption keys.
Strong Incident Response Plan: Marriott faced criticism over the way it handled the breach notification process. Having a strong, well-tested incident response plan can help manage communication during a breach and maintain customer trust.
Some lessons that can be learned from the Marriott Starwood data breach:
- Hotel chains need to take security seriously. They need to invest in strong security measures and have a robust incident response plan in place.
- Guests need to be aware of the risks of staying at hotels. They need to be careful about what information they share with hotels and make sure that their passwords are strong and secure.
- Governments need to play a role in protecting user privacy. They need to enact strong data privacy laws and regulations that hold hotel chains accountable for their data security practices.
The Marriott Starwood data breach was a significant event that had a major impact on the hotel industry. The breach highlighted the importance of security and privacy, and it led to increased security of hotel chains. The lessons learned from the breach can help to prevent future breaches and protect user privacy.
In conclusion, the Marriott Starwood data breach serves as a sobering reminder of the potential scale and impact of cybersecurity incidents. The need for organizations to maintain stringent cybersecurity practices, perform regular audits, and ensure they have effective incident response plans has never been more apparent. By learning from these incidents and continually adapting our security strategies, we can help ensure that we’re prepared for the ever-evolving cybersecurity threats we face in today’s digital age.
We have to build more awareness and take a lesson from that incident:
- This breach is a reminder that no company is immune to cyber attacks. Even large, well-established companies like Marriott can be targeted.
- It is important for companies to have strong security measures in place to protect their data. This includes things like using strong passwords, encrypting data, and having a robust incident response plan.
- It is also important for individuals to be aware of the risks of data breaches. This means being careful about what information they share online and making sure that their passwords are strong and secure.
- If we are a victim of a data breach, it is important to take steps to protect ourself. This includes changing our passwords, monitoring our credit report, and being on the lookout for phishing emails.
In response to the breach, Marriott notified affected customers, offered them a free subscription to a service that monitors internet sites for personal information and alerts customers if their information is found.
However, the breach has had far-reaching consequences, including regulatory scrutiny and litigation. Under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect earlier in 2018, Marriott could be fined up to 4% of annual global revenue.
The breach highlighted several key points:
- Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Risk: Organizations need to carefully assess the cybersecurity posture of companies they acquire. Cybersecurity due diligence should be an essential part of the M&A process.
- Early Detection: Implementing a robust intrusion detection system and regularly monitoring systems for suspicious activity can help detect breaches earlier and minimize damage.
- Data Minimization: Organizations should only collect and store personal data that is absolutely necessary for their operations. The more data a company stores, the higher the potential damage in the event of a data breach.
- Encryption and Key Management: While Marriott had encrypted their credit card data, they were unsure whether the encryption keys had also been stolen. Proper key management is an essential part of data security and encryption strategy.
The Marriott data breach was a stark reminder of the potential risks and damages associated with data breaches. It emphasized the need for continuous improvements in corporate cybersecurity practices.