Best Western forced to play defense on data breach disclosure

Could hotel chain have done a better job of defusing story about system intrusion?

The headline in this week's Glasgow Sunday Herald -- "Revealed: 8 million victims in the world's biggest cyber heist" -- was a grabber.

And it certainly got the attention of the Best Western hotel chain, which found itself scrambling to do damage control after the Scottish newspaper reported that hackers had broken into its online reservation system and stolen 8 million customer records. According to the Sunday Herald, the theft netted data on everybody who had stayed at Best Western's 1,312 European hotels this year and in 2007.

After the story appeared on August 24, US-based Best Western International acknowledged that the Herald had alerted it to a "possible compromise" of data. But the company refuted the Sunday Herald's claims about the scope of the system intrusion, saying that the story was "grossly unsubstantiated." Best Western said the breach had affected just 13 customers at a single hotel in Berlin -- a number that it later reduced to 10.

Nonetheless, the company couldn't stanch the online flood of stories and blog posts about the data breach that followed the publication of the Sunday Herald's story, which said that a hacker from India had obtained log-in credentials for Best Western's online booking system via a keystroke-logging program and then sold information on how to access the data in the system "through an underground network operated by the Russian mafia."

Best Western's experience highlights the public relations problems that can result from breach disclosures, as well as the need for companies to have comprehensive incident-response plans in place for dealing with such disclosures.

In this case, Best Western could have beaten the Sunday Herald to the punch by breaking the news about the breach itself. The intrusion took place on August 21; according to the newspaper, it brought the breach to the company's attention the following day, two days before the story was published.

In comments sent via e-mail this week, a Best Western spokeswoman indicated that the company was blindsided by the Sunday Herald's claims about the scope of the breach. The reporter who wrote the story didn't mention the possibility that 8 million records had been stolen when he talked to Best Western officials, the spokeswoman said. She said that he simply asked for the number of Best Western hotels and rooms in Europe, and that he appears to have used those numbers to extrapolate the 8 million figure.

And the only evidence of a breach that the reporter presented was a screenshot of a single log-in suggesting a possible compromise, the spokeswoman added. "Basically, the Herald elicited a statement from us on one issue and used the statement to report on another," she said.

Tags data breach

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld

Comments

Comments are now closed.

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?