Huge Marriott Data Breach: 500 Million Guests, And Marriott Wants You To Know It’s Not Their Fault

Data breaches are a common occurrence in today’s world.  However, the breach Marriott just announced is especially egregious in terms of size and the data reported to be compromised.

The details of the breach are as follows:

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.  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.  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).  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 guests, the information was limited to name and sometimes other data such as mailing address, email address, or other information.

What You Need To Know

It’s still a bit unlikely that your credit card data was used fraudulently as a result of this breach.  Companies aren’t supposed to store certain secure bits like the data found on the chips.  However, Marriott has setup a site that can help inform you if your data is compromised:

Marriott is providing guests the opportunity to enroll in WebWatcher free of charge for one year. WebWatcher monitors internet sites where personal information is shared and generates an alert to the consumer if evidence of the consumer’s personal information is found.  Due to regulatory and other reasons, WebWatcher or similar products are not available in all countries.  Guests from the United States who activate WebWatcher will also be provided fraud consultation services and reimbursement coverage for free.  To activate WebWatcher, go to and click on your country, if listed, for enrollment.

Marriott Says It’s Not Their Fault

Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon who has it out for Marriott, but this press release really torqued me off.  Call Marriott today and ask about Starwood, they’ll tell you that they’re all Marriott employees, all Marriott hotels.  Everyone is one big happy family, and their systems should work well really soon.  You just need to be patient.

And yet, the data breach is described as a Starwood issue.  In fact, this is the first time I can recall seeing the domain used in reference to Marriott in quite some time.  Marriott paints the picture that they discover this problem of unauthorized access that dates back 4 years.  I find it extremely hard to believe that there has been a 4-year ongoing data breach of this magnitude that nobody noticed.  Marriott has been in control of this data for a significant amount of time now, given that it’s been over two years since they started linking their systems with SPG.

The fact that there are at least two distinct groups of guests with data taken signal that this breach was happening on multiple levels, potentially across multiple systems.  The comment about the unauthorized access dating back to 2014 doesn’t necessarily even mean this is all the same breach.

It took over two months for Marriott to notify customers about this data breach.  I understand that they may not have had a full picture of the breach immediately.  But, Marriott owed their customers more information sooner than this.  Especially since it’s all one big happy company.

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