Home > Risk > Hyperventilating about cyber – Part I

Hyperventilating about cyber – Part I

January 20, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

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?

A 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?
  1. January 21, 2019 at 2:56 AM

    I would breathe normally as well – and I believe you are on the right track. The important thing (to you) is not what have been “stolen” (i.e. copied note you still have your passport and your credit cards). The important thing (to you) is, what consequences may this have for you.

    – If you are worried about identify theft based on your passport (not that I can see how, but still) – claim you passport has disappeared, and get a new one

    – If you worry your payment/credit card details can be used for shopping at your account – block it, and get another one

    If you are afraid your wife will learn about a trip you took somewhere else that what you told her (for whatever reason) and travel history data can prove this … have the talk with your wife before this “blows up in your face”.

    For all … you may wish to balance the likelihood of the consequence with the effort needed to handle/eliminate it – that’s standard risk management.

    It is not about the crime/theft – it is about the consequences to you.

    I would be care hyperventilating over cyber crime these days, as I expect the continuance of Moore’s law into artificial intelligence etc. will exacerbate the issue well beyond our imagination over the next decade … and then I’ll be old enough to hyperventilate and say “stop the world, I want to get off”.

  2. Norman Marks
    January 21, 2019 at 7:23 AM

    Very well said, Hans

  1. January 20, 2019 at 11:28 PM

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