Marriott data breach FAQ: How did it happen and what was the impact?

In late 2018, the Marriott hotel chain announced that one of its reservation systems had been compromised, with hundreds of millions of customer records, including credit card and passport numbers, being exfiltrated by the attackers. While Marriott has not disclosed the full timeline or technical details of the assault, what we do know tells us quite a bit about the current threat landscape — and offers lessons for other enterprises on how to protect themselves.

We answer 10 frequently asked questions.

When was the Marriott breach?

On September 8, 2018, an internal security tool flagged as suspicious an attempt to access the internal guest reservation database for Marriott’s Starwood brands, which include the Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, and W hotels. This prompted an internal investigation that determined, through a forensics process that Marriott has not discussed in detail, that the Starwood network had been compromised sometime in 2014 — back when Starwood had been a separate company. Marriott purchased Starwood in 2016, but nearly two years later, the former Starwood hotels hadn’t been migrated to Marriott’s own reservation system and were still using IT infrastructure inherited from Starwood, an important factor that we’ll revisit in more detail later.

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