Hilton Becomes Latest Hotel Chain to Disclose Breach

Hilton Worldwide is the second hotel chain in recent days to admit it has been breached. The news follows Starwood Hotels and Resorts' breach disclosure.

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Hilton data breach

Hotel chains are now clearly in hackers' sights as Hilton publicly disclosed on Nov. 24 that it is the victim of a cyber-attack. Hilton Worldwide is the second major hotel chain this month to disclose a data breach, joining Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which revealed it had suffered breaches across 54 locations.

Hilton is not providing details on which hotels in its chain were affected, or even a specific number of hotels or customer cards that could be at risk. In an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, Hilton noted that "the unauthorized malware targeted payment card information at Hilton Worldwide hotels."

While Hilton is not publicly disclosing information on specific locations that might have been impacted, the company is putting a timeline on when malware is likely to have been running on its systems. Hilton suspects that point-of-sale (POS) malware was running on systems in its restaurants as well as gift shops. The data stolen includes credit card holder names, payment card numbers, security codes as well as card expiration dates.

Hilton suspects that there was 17 weeks of exposure to the malware, spread across two separate periods of Nov. 18 to Dec. 5, 2014, and April 21 to July 27, 2015.

"You have my personal assurance that we take this matter very seriously, and we immediately launched an investigation and further strengthened our systems," Jim Holthouser, executive vice president, Global Brands at Hilton Hotels, said in a statement. "However, as a precautionary measure, some of you may wish to review payment card statements during certain time periods.

The fact that multiple hotel chains were breached within the same time period is not seen as a surprise by security experts eWEEK contacted.

"It's not uncommon for attackers to continue using malware and tactics across customers within the same industry," Tim Stiller, consultant on the Rapid7 Analytic Response Team, told eWEEK. "If the malware is still effective, there's no incentive for them to invest in reworking or developing further."

Most hotels use similar software in restaurants, coffee bars and gift shops, which can provide easy ingress into the network, Stiller said. In addition, POS systems are typically less secure and make for easy targets for malware like memory scrapers.

JP Bourget, Syncurity CEO, said it's possible that one group of attackers is focusing on hotels and learning about how their payment systems work to infiltrate them. It's also possible the same group is selling the tools, tactics and procedures to infiltrate hotel payment systems to third parties, who are then executing the attacks, he said.

It's common for attackers to move laterally in the same vertical market. In the wake of the Target retail breach in 2013, multiple retailers, including Staples, Home Depot and Michaels, reported breaches in the weeks and months that followed. The same thing happened early this year in the health care industry with Anthem disclosing a breach in February that was followed in March by the disclosure that health care insurer Premera was also breached.

Hilton is providing affected customers with complimentary one-year credit monitoring to help protect against any potential risk from the breach.

Stiller suggested that consumers do a few additional things to protect themselves. "We would recommend requesting new bank cards used at the hotels and request the new cards have chip-and-pin technology," Stiller said. "Also, consumers should check for unauthorized transactions and report them to their bank."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.