Best Western downplays data breach

Breach compromised a dozen records, not 8 million, hotel insists

Best Western International Monday acknowledged it suffered a data breach that exposed sensitive customer information at a European hotel, but strongly disputes claims that an attacker gained access to 8 million customer records with credit-card numbers. Best Western insists no more than a dozen customer records were compromised.

The story about the incident first appeared in Scotland's Glasgow Sunday Herald. Writer Iain Bruce, who says he learned about the breach from an Indian hacker, claims to have screen shots of the Best Western data breach and Tuesday stands by his story.

"It's a shame that BW [Best Western] [isn't] more worried about the breach than attacking me," he wrote in an e-mail exchange with Network World.

Bruce's Sunday Herald story, entitled "Revealed: 8 million victims in the world's biggest cyber heist," describes how "an international criminal gang has pulled off one of the most audacious cyber-crimes ever and stolen the identities of an estimated eight million people in a hacking raid that could ultimately net more than 2.8 billion [British] pounds in illegal funds."

The story further claims "the attack scooped up the personal details of every single customer that has booked into one of Best Western's 1312 continental hotels since 2007."

Bruce quotes Jacques Erasmus, an employee from security firm Prevx, as saying, "They've pulled off a masterstroke here .... The Russian gangs who specialize in this kind of work will have been exploiting the information from the moment it became available late on Thursday night. In the wrong hands, there's enough data there to spark a major European crime wave."

However, Best Western strongly disputes the claim that 8 million customer records were exposed and insists that only one hotel and not more than a dozen records were affected. The hotel chain says Bruce reported the security hole to Best Western last Thursday, prompting network changes that Best Western made by Friday.

In a statement issued late Monday, Best Western International stated:

"We can confirm that on August 21, 2008, three separate attempts were made via a single log-in to access the same data from a single hotel. The hotel in question is the 107-room Best Western Hotel am Schloss Kopenick in Berlin, Germany, where a Trojan horse virus was detected by the hotel's antivirus software. The compromised log-in ID permitted access to reservations data for that property only. The log-in ID was immediately terminated, and the computer in question has been removed from us."

According to Best Western spokeswoman Marie Yarroll, the number of compromised customer records, according to the current analysis and investigation, appears to be only 10 and not more than a dozen. "We are currently contacting those customers and offering assistance as needed," Best Western said Monday night in a statement.

Best Western further stated that it is working with the FBI and international authorities to investigate and that "Best Western purges reservations data within seven days of guest departure" in one security step.

Best Western also complies with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, the hotel said. "To maintain that compliance, Best Western maintains a secure network protected by firewalls and governed by a strong information security policy." Best Western said it will release more information as it becomes available.

Best Western also says it's disputing the Glasgow Sunday Herald's story with the publishing outfit.

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Ellen Messmer

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