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Marriott security breach exposed data of up to 500M guests

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  • NEW YORK — Hackers stole information on as many as 500 million guests of the Marriott hotel empire over four years, obtaining credit card and passport numbers and other personal data, the company said Friday as it acknowledged one of the largest security breaches in history.

    The full scope of the failure was not immediately clear. Marriott was trying to determine if the records included duplicates, such as a single person staying multiple times.

    It was also unclear what hackers could do with the credit card information. Though it was stored in encrypted form, it was possible that hackers also obtained the two components needed to descramble the numbers, the company said.

    The crisis quickly emerged as one of the largest data breaches on record. By comparison, last year’s Equifax hack affected more than 145 million people. A Target breach in 2013 affected more than 41 million payment card accounts and exposed contact information for more than 60 million customers.

    Security analysts were alarmed to learn that the breach began in 2014. While such failures often span months, four years is extreme, said Yonatan Striem-Amit, chief technology officer of Cybereason.

    The affected hotel brands were operated by Starwood before it was acquired by Marriott in 2016. They include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin, Element, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, Le Méridien and Four Points. Starwood-branded timeshare properties were also included.

    None of the Marriott-branded chains were threatened.

    For as many as two-thirds of those affected, the exposed data could include mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and passport numbers. Also included might be dates of birth, gender, reservation dates, arrival and departure times and Starwood Preferred Guest account information.

    “We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves,” CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to support our guests, and using lessons learned to be better moving forward.”

    Marriott set up a website and call centre for customers who believe they are at risk.

    The stolen information could be used by criminals to create fraudulent bank accounts.

    It isn’t common for passport numbers to be part of a hack, but it is not unheard of. Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific Airways said in October that 9.4 million passengers’ information had been breached, including passport numbers.

    Passport numbers are often requested by hotels outside the U.S. because U.S. driver’s licenses are not accepted there as identification. The numbers could be added to full sets of data about a person that bad actors sell on the black market, leading to identity theft.

    And while the credit card industry can cancel accounts and issue new cards within days, it is a much more difficult process, often steeped in government bureaucracy, to get a new passport.

    But one redeeming factor about passports is that they are often required to be seen in person, said Ryan Wilk of NuData Security. “It’s a highly secure document with a lot of security features,” he said.

    Email notifications for those who may have been affected begin rolling out Friday.

    When the merger was first announced in 2015, Starwood had 21 million people in its loyalty program. The company manages more than 6,700 properties across the globe, most in North America.

    While the first impulse for those potentially affected by the breach could be to check credit cards, security experts say other information in the database could be more damaging.

    The names, addresses, passport numbers and other personal information “is of greater concern than the payment info, which was encrypted,” analyst Ted Rossman of CreditCards.com said, citing the risk of fraudulent accounts.

    An internal security tool signalled a potential breach in early September, but the company was unable to decrypt the information that would define what data had possibly been exposed until last week.

    Marriott, based in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a regulatory filing that it was premature to estimate what financial impact the breach will have on the company. It noted that it does have cyber insurance, and is working with its insurance carriers to assess coverage.

    Elected officials were quick to call for action.

    The New York attorney general opened an investigation. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, co-founder of the Senate cybersecurity caucus and the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the U.S. needs laws that will limit the data companies can collect on its customers.

    “It is past time we enact data security laws that ensure companies account for security costs rather than making their consumers shoulder the burden and harms resulting from these lapses,” Warner said in a statement.

    Marriott has had a rocky process of merging its computer system with Starwood computers. Members of both loyalty programs have complained about missing points, glitches with stays crediting to their accounts and problems with free nights earned from credit cards not appearing.

    The company is still trying to phase out Starwood systems, Sorenson said.

    ___

    Chapman reported from Newark, New Jersey.

    Michelle Chapman And Mae Anderson, The Associated Press










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    Online real estate auctions try to shake up sales with novel approach

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  • An online auction for a luxury home in Abbotsford, B.C., is drawing attention for its novel approach, which some observers say has potential to inspire new sales even if it doesn’t have any notable impact on the housing landscape.

    Bidding opens Tuesday on the 12-bedroom, 10-bath restored train power station known as the “Sumas Powerhouse,” which was previously listed for $5 million and has an assessed value of $2.2 million on B.C. Assessment.

    It’s one of three properties in Canada listed on global firm Concierge Auction’s website. A news release says it’s targeting Chinese buyers and will be sold in co-operation with Re/Max.

    Scott Pate, a project sales manager with Concierge, said luxury real estate has been a buyers market for quite some time in both the United States and Canada and auctions are a way to give sellers more certainty.

    “We’ll bring the market to this sale instead of the normal way of selling real estate, which is putting it on the market and waiting for an offer, which could take years and years,” he said.

    “The market is motivated because there’s a fear of missing out. This auction is going to end on a certain day … so it creates a lot of interest.”

    Real estate auctions are typical in Australia and New Zealand, but the model is less common in Canada. 

    A real estate agent in Victoria tried the in-person auction approach in 2016 with a property in the city’s upscale Rockland neighbourhood, holding a public auction featuring a pianist playing a grand piano in the ballroom at the event.

    But local media reported that although 60 people filled the room, only one was an interested buyer so the auction was cancelled. In 2017, the B.C. Supreme Court accepted a $1.8-million offer for the historic mansion in foreclosure.

    Tom Davidoff, director of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said online auctions aren’t all that different from the way we buy and sell homes traditionally in Canada, especially in cases where there are multiple interested buyers and a bidding war.

    That could make it comfortable for Canadian buyers to transition to the model.

    “It certainly could be a direction the market could go. In segments where the market is slow today, people will try different approaches to move product, so it’s certainly possible,” he said.

    But beyond creating another way for potential buyers to bid, he said he doesn’t believe there will be an impact on the market in terms of housing prices or competition.

    “This will have no impact on the market overall,” Davidoff said.

    In Toronto, On the Block sells real estate both the traditional way and through its online auction platform but doesn’t focus on luxury sales.

    Co-founder Daniel Steinfeld said online auctions offer a way around some of the frustrations that come with silent bidding wars under the traditional system.

    As part of the company’s model, buyers must sign agreements to make the value of their bids public while their identities remain protected. Real estate board regulations otherwise prohibit real estate agents from disclosing the substance of competing bids.

    “Buyers, especially in the Toronto and Vancouver markets, have grown pretty frustrated with the blind bidding approach,” he said.

    The platform also allows the company to post more information than might be available through MLS listings, like copies of home inspections and agreements of purchase and sale, which makes it less likely for a sale to fall through.

    The most important factor in a successful real estate auction is the starting price, which can inspire competitive bids, Steinfeld said. So when identifying potential properties for auction, the company interviews the sellers to determine their objectives and market expectations.

    If the seller has unreasonable expectations about the market value of their property, it’s probably not the right fit for auction.

    Market conditions matter less, he said.

    “We have seen in both good and bad market conditions that it can work, it really just comes down to the appropriate pricing strategy,” Steinfeld said.

    Auction properties are typically first-time listings and the company sets a reserve price, which represents the minimum value at which the seller is obligated to sell.

    “Once bidding reaches that number, everyone knows for sure that property will sell,” he said.

    “Then everyone starts to bid quit a bit more because they know at that point that if they win, it’s theirs.”

     

    Amy Smart, The Canadian Press


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    Helicopters rescue Norway cruise ship passengers amid storm

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  • HELSINKI — Rescue workers off Norway’s western coast rushed to evacuate 1,300 passengers and crew from a disabled cruise ship by helicopter on Saturday, winching them one-by-one to safety as heaving waves tossed the ship from side to side and high winds battered the operation.

    The Viking Sky issued a mayday call as bad weather hit and engine problems caused it to start drifting toward the rocky shore, the Norwegian newspaper VG reported. Police in the western county of Moere og Romsdal said the crew, fearing the ship would run aground, managed to anchor in Hustadvika Bay, between the Norwegian cities of Alesund and Trondheim, so the evacuations could take place.

    Rescue teams with helicopters and boats were sent to evacuate the cruise ship under extremely difficult circumstances, including gusts up to 38 knots (43 mph) and waves over 8 metres (26 feet). The area is known for its rough, frigid waters.

    The majority of the cruise ship passengers were reportedly British and American tourists. About 180 have been evacuated, according to rescue officials.

    Video and photos from people on the ship showed it heaving, with chairs and other furniture dangerously rolling from side to side. Passengers were suited up in orange life vests but the waves broke some ship windows and cold water flowed over the feet of some passengers.

    Norwegian public broadcaster NRK said the Viking Sky’s evacuation was a slow and dangerous process, as passengers needed to be hoisted one-by-one from the cruise ship to the five available helicopters.

    “I was afraid. I’ve never experienced anything so scary,” Janet Jacob, among the first group of passengers evacuated to the nearby town of Molde, told NRK.

    She said her helicopter ride to safety came amid strong winds “like a tornado,” prompting her to pray “for the safety of all aboard.”

    American passenger John Curry told NRK that he was having lunch as the cruise ship started to shake.

    “It was just chaos. The helicopter ride from the ship to shore I would rather not think about. It wasn’t nice,” Curry told the broadcaster.

    NRK said one 90-year-old-man and his 70-year-old spouse on the ship were severely injured but did not say how that happened.

    Later, reports emerged that a cargo ship with nine crew members was in trouble nearby, and the local Norwegian rescue service diverted two of the five helicopters working on the cruise ship to that rescue.

    Authorities told NRK that a strong storm with high waves was preventing rescue workers from using life boats or tug boats to take passengers ashore.

    “It’s a demanding exercise, because they (passengers) have to hang in the air under a helicopter and there’s a very, very strong wind,” witness Odd Roar Lange told NRK at the site.

    Rescuers were prioritizing the nine crew members aboard the Hagland Captain cargo ship, said Per Fjeld of the Joint Rescue Center Southern Norway. He later said all nine crewmembers had been rescued.

    Norwegian authorities said late Saturday that the evacuation of the Viking Sky would proceed all through the night into Sunday.

    Officials said late Saturday night that three of the ship’s four engines had been restarted and it was moving southwest – but not toward shore.

    The Viking Sky was on a 12-day trip that began March 14 in the western Norwegian city of Bergen, according to the cruisemapper.com website.

    The ship was visiting the Norwegian towns and cities of Narvik, Alta, Tromso, Bodo and Stavanger before its scheduled arrival Tuesday in the British port of Tilbury on the River Thames.

    The Viking Sky, a vessel with gross tonnage of 47,800, was delivered in 2017 to operator Viking Ocean Cruises.

    ___

    Sheila Norman-Culp contributed from London.

    Jari Tanner, The Associated Press









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