The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Marriott International £18.4m for “failing to keep millions of customers’ personal data secure”.
It comes after Marriott estimates that 339 million guest records worldwide were affected following a cyber-attack in 2014 on Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. The attack, from an unknown source, remained undetected until September 2018, by which time the company had been acquired by Marriott.
The ICO said the personal data involved differed between individuals but may have included names, email addresses, phone numbers, unencrypted passport numbers, arrival/departure information, guests’ VIP status and loyalty programme membership number.
The precise number of people affected is unclear as there may have been multiple records for an individual guest. Seven million guest records related to people in the UK.
The ICO’s investigation found that there were “failures”’ by Marriott to put “appropriate technical or organisational measures in place to protect the personal data being processed on its systems”, as required by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The ICO added that while the investigation traced the cyber-attack back to 2014, the penalty only relates to the breach from 25 March 2018, when new rules under the GDPR came into effect.
Because the breach happened before the UK left the EU, the ICO also investigated on behalf of all EU authorities as lead supervisory authority under the GDPR. The penalty and action have been approved by the other EU DPAs through the GDPR’s cooperation process.
In July 2019, the ICO issued Marriott with a notice of intent to fine. As part of the regulatory process, the ICO considered representations from Marriott, the steps Marriott took to mitigate the effects of the incident and the economic impact of COVID-19 on their business before setting a final penalty.
As such, the ICO said it acknowledges that Marriott acted “promptly” to contact customers and the ICO. It also acted quickly to “mitigate the risk of damage suffered by customers, and has since instigated a number of measures to improve the security of its systems”.
Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said: ”Personal data is precious and businesses have to look after it. Millions of people’s data was affected by Marriott’s failure; thousands contacted a helpline and others may have had to take action to protect their personal data because the company they trusted it with had not.
“When a business fails to look after customers’ data, the impact is not just a possible fine, what matters most is the public whose data they had a duty to protect.”
In a release in response to the fine Marriott said: “Marriott does not intend to appeal the decision, but makes no admission of liability in relation to the decision or the underlying allegations. As the ICO acknowledges, Marriott cooperated fully throughout the investigation.
“Marriott deeply regrets the incident. Marriott remains committed to the privacy and security of its guests’ information and continues to make significant investments in security measures for its systems, as the ICO recognises. The ICO also recognises the steps taken by Marriott following discovery of the incident to promptly inform and protect the interests of its guests.”
It concluded: “Marriott wants to reassure guests that the incident and the ICO’s decision involved only Starwood’s separate network, which is no longer in use.”
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