Intercontinental Hotels Group Data Breach Affected 1,184 Hotels

The Intercontinental Hotels Group data breach previously announced in February as affecting 12 hotels in the chain has proven to have been far more extensive than was first thought.

Last week the group announced that the breach affected guests that used their credit cards to pay at franchisee hotels across the United States and in Puerto Rico between September 29, 2016 and December 29, 2016.

According to the chain’s website, the Intercontinental Hotels Group data breach potentially affected guests who stayed at its Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Hotel Indigo, and InterContinental Hotels. The full list of hotels that have potentially been affected by the malware incident has been listed on the IHG website. In total, 1,184 of the group’s hotels have potentially been affected.

The Intercontinental Hotels Group data breach involved malware that had been downloaded onto its systems, which was capable of monitoring payment card systems and exfiltrating payment card data. It does not appear that any other information other than card details and cardholders’ names were stolen by the attackers.

The hotel group does not believe the data breach extended past December 29, 2016, although that cannot be entirely ruled out as it took until February/March for all of the affected hotels to be investigated and for confirmation to be received that the malware had been removed.

Prior to the malware being installed, IHG had started installing the OHG Secure Payment Solution (SPS), which provides point to point encryption to prevent incidents such as this from resulting in the theft of clients’ data.  Had the process started sooner, the Intercontinental Hotel Group data breach could have been prevented.

Hotels that had implemented the SPS prior to September 29, 2016 were not affected and those that had implemented the solution between September 29, 2016 and December 29, 2016 stopped the malware from being able to locate and steal credit card data. In those cases, only clients that used their credit cards at affected hotels between September 29, 2016 and when the SPS system was installed were affected.

Intercontinental Hotels Group Data Breach One of Many Affecting the Hospitality Sector

The Intercontinental Hotels Group data breach stands out due to the extent to which the group was affected, with well over 1,100 hotels affected. However, this is far from the only hotel group to have been affected by POS malware. Previous incidents have also been reported by Hard Rock Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Omni Hotels & Resorts and Trump Hotels.

Hotels, in particular hotel chains, are big targets for cybercriminals due to the size of the prize. Many hotel guests choose to pay for their rooms and services on credit cards rather than in cash, and each hotel services many thousands – often tens of thousands – of guests each year.

Globally, IHG hotels service more than 150 million guests every year, which is a tremendous number of credit and debit cards. Such a widespread malware infection would be highly lucrative for the attackers. Credit card numbers may only sell for a couple of dollars a time, but with that number of guests, an attack such as this would be a huge pay day for the attackers.

The Hospitality Sector is a Big Target and Vulnerable to Cyberattacks

While many tactics are used to gain access to POS systems, oftentimes it is weak or default passwords that allow hackers to gain access to hotel computer systems. Stolen credentials are another common way that access is gained.  The Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) for 2016 shows that in each of the reported breaches affecting the hospitality sector, access to systems was gained by the attackers in less than an hour.

Malware can also be inadvertently downloaded by employees and guests. Poor segregation of the POS system from other parts of the network is commonplace. That makes it easy for hackers to move laterally within the network once a foothold has been gained. Doubling up POS systems as workstations makes it too easy for hackers to gain access to POS systems.

Many hotels also fail to perform adequate risk assessments and do not conduct penetration tests or vulnerability scans. Even malware scans are performed infrequently. Some hotels also fail to implement appropriate security solutions to block access to malware-laden websites.

The Intercontinental Hotels Group data breach could have been prevented, and certainly discovered more quickly. The same is true for many hotel data breaches.

Unless hotels and hotel groups improve their cybersecurity posture and implement appropriate technology, policies and procedures to prevent cyberattacks, data breaches of this nature will continue to occur.

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Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez is a news writer on Defensorum. Elizabeth is an experienced journalist who has worked on many publications for several years. Elizabeth writers about compliance and the related areas of IT security breaches. Elizabeth's has a focus data privacy and secure handling of personal information. Elizabeth has a postgraduate degree in journalism. Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAAZone. https://twitter.com/ElizabethHzone