Scam of the day – February 12, 2017 – Data breach at InterContinental Hotels

InterContinental Hotels became the latest hotel chain to disclose that it had been hacked by cybercriminals stealing credit card and debit card information, joining Kimpton Hotels, Marriot Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Trump Hotels, Hilton, Mandarin Oriental and White Lodging which all suffered data breaches during the past year.  Trump Hotels was hacked twice in the last year.

According to a statement released by InterContinental, credit card and debit card processing equipment was infected with malware at restaurants and bars at their hotels between August and December of 2016. The full extent of the data breach has not yet been determined.  For a list of the affected restaurants, you can go to this link.

It is not known yet whether the data breach is related to the hacking by the Russian organized crime group Carbanak, that, as reported recently by Brian Krebs managed to install malware into the credit and debit card processing equipment manufactured by MICROS used in hotels around the world.

The primary reasons for the continuing problem of data breaches at hotel chains are the weak cybersecurity of many hotel chains coupled with these companies still using credit card and debit card processors for cards with magnetic strips rather than the safer smart EMV chip cards.  Regulations effective October 1, 2015  mandated credit card issuers and retailers switch over to the new smart EMV chip cards or risk increased legal liability, but unfortunately, many companies have been slow to switch to the new card processing equipment.  If smart EMV chip cards had been used at the bars and restaurants at the InterContinental hotels, the card information that was stolen would have been worthless, but since they still used the old fashioned magnetic strip cards, InterContinental and its customers face financial problems from this data breach.


Until credit card issuing companies and brick and mortar stores and businesses that take credit cards switch to the new smart EMV chip cards, this story will, as I predicted  more than a year ago, continue to occur again and again.  As for us, as consumers, the best thing we can do is to refrain from using our debit cards for anything other than an ATM card because consumers whose debit card security has been breached are not protected as much as when a credit card is used for fraudulent purchases.  In addition, if you do not already have a new smart EMV chip card, you should demand one from your credit card company.  You also should regularly monitor your credit card statements for indications of fraudulent use.


Scam of the day – October 4, 2013 – Russian hackers break into major data aggregators

Security researcher Brian Krebs recently disclosed that a Russian gang which operates a criminal identity theft service for other identity thieves had hacked into three major data aggregators, LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet and Kroll Background America for as long as five months without being uncovered until recently.  These data aggregators are companies that store tremendous amounts of personal information used for business transactions and by law enforcement.  Included in the information stored by these companies is not just names, birthdates and Social Security numbers, but also knowledge-based authentication information, which is used by businesses, financial institutions and credit card companies to confirm someone’s identity when doing business with them.  This information includes information about previous loans, residences and other personal information.  By stealing this information the hackers were able to steal the identities of their victims and obtain loans and credit.  The Russian gang managed to infiltrate the computers of all three of these data aggregators without being detected for months and without triggering the security software and anti-malware employed by the three companies.  The Russian gang then sold the data on countless victims to other identity thieves.  The FBI is still investigating this story and I will update you as further developments occur.


As I so often tell you, your personal information is only as safe as the places that hold that information with the weakest security.  For this reason it is important to limit as much as possible the amount of information that you share and to be constantly vigilant about protecting and monitoring your accounts and assets.  Make sure that your accounts are password protected and that your own security software and anti-malware software is installed and constantly updated with the latest patches.  Identity thieves are always a bit ahead of the developers of security software so it is even more important to install updates as soon as they are available.