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Hyperventilating about cyber – Part I


It’s hard to see a survey these days that doesn’t include cyber as one of the top risks faced by organizations around the world.

But should it be?

Are we hyperventilating unnecessarily? Or is the risk so severe that such a reaction is justified?

This is the first of two posts I plan on the topic. This one will talk about the effect of breaches on consumers, and then I will move on to corporations and my advice to risk and cyber professionals.

Over the last decade or so, I have traveled all over the world, sometimes on vacation but also to speak at conferences and lead training sessions.

While my preference is for the Hilton family of hotels (simply because I have more status with them), I have also stayed frequently at Marriott, Sheraton, and other properties.

So when Marriott announced a massive cyber breach in November, I wondered how it would affect me personally.

The first thing I noticed was that while this was announced as a Marriott breach in the news (such as on NBC), the report didn’t make it clear that it only related to stays at hotels like the Sheraton and the Westin. NBC references Starwood, but not everybody knows which hotels are included in the Starwood family.

So what was stolen?

January update by Marriott provided a little clarity:

  • The breach relates to stays at Starwood properties (not Marriots) since 2014.
  • The number of guests whose records were stolen is unclear. All we know at this point is that it is less than 383 million.
  • While 25.55 million passport numbers were stolen, all but 5.25 million were encrypted and the encryption appears to be secure.
  • 6 million credit card (referred to as payment card) records were stolen, but as of September 2018 only 354,000 cards had not expired. All the data were encrypted.
  • In addition to credit card and passport information, the hackers copied names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and reservation dates.

What could that mean to me?

My information might be included, but I cannot see this as something of great concern.

What could the hackers do with it?

Not much.

The FTC has a useful piece of advice, which I recommend. But I already have my credit rating monitored, alerts on each of my credit and bank accounts for unusual activity, and don’t think I need to do more.

I cannot see how my passport number can be used to cause me harm. I don’t need to get a new one.

Certainly, the breach will cost Marriott (more in the second post). Lawsuits have already been filed (including this one), even though there is little evidence of harm to guests (IMHO).

My breath is normal. How is yours?


  1. Am I missing something? Can hackers misuse my passport number and stay information?
  2. Is this something I should be hyperventilating about?
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Norman D. Marks, CPA, CRMA

Norman D. Marks is an Author, Evangelist and Mentor for Better Run Business, as well as an OCEG Fellow and Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Risk Management. Mr. Marks has been a practitioner and thought leader in internal audit, risk management, and governance for a long time. He has led large and small internal audit departments, been a Chief Risk Officer and Chief Compliance Officer, and managed IT Security and governance functions. Read more
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