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Lessons to be Learned from Wyndham Hotels Data Breach

February 02, 2016 Caren D. Enloe

The FTC recently entered into a Consent Order last week with Wyndham Hotels and Resorts resolving the FTC’s allegations that Wyndham did not do enough to prevent its customer’s credit card data from three data breaches that occurred in 2008 and 2009. The Consent Order comes on the heels of the Third Circuit’s opinion in the case in which the court held that the FTC has an authority to hold companies accountable for failing to safeguard consumer data.  See Federal Trade Commission v. Wyndham Worldwide Corp., 799 F. 3d 236 (3rd Cir. 2015).

Specifically, the Complaint alleges that:

  • Wyndham allowed its hotels to store payment card information in clear, readable text;
  • Wyndham allowed the use of easily guessed passwords to access the property management systems;
  • Wyndham failed to use readily available security measures such as firewalls to limit access between the hotels’ property management systems, corporate network, and the Internet;
  • Wyndham did not ensure that its hotels implemented adequate information security policies and procedures;
  • Wyndham failed to restrict access of its network and servers from third party vendors;
  • Wyndham failed to employ reasonable measures to detect and prevent unauthorized access to its computer network or to conduct security investigations;
  • Wyndham did not follow proper incident response procedures. Wyndham did not monitor its network for malware used in the prior intrusions.  As a result, the hackers in each of the three breaches used similar methods to gain access to credit card information.

Specifically, the FTC’s complaint alleges that on three separate occasions in 2008 and 2009 hackers gained access to Wyndham’s network and property management systems and obtained unencrypted information on over 619,000 consumers. The complaint alleges that Wyndham participated in deceptive and unfair acts or practices related to their data security by failing to address the weaknesses of its cyber security systems that had led to prior attacks.

The Consent Order, which will remain in effect for twenty years, requires Wyndham, among other things:

  • To establish and implement a comprehensive written information security program that is reasonably designed to protect the security, confidentiality, and integrity of its customer’s credit card data;
  • To annually obtain written assessments of its compliance with certain agreed upon data security standards; and
  • To maintain records of its efforts, including audits, policies, and assessments which may be accessed by the FTC upon request.

Businesses which store private personal information should take note of the FTC Consent Order and take the following lessons to heart:

  • Develop a Written Information Security Program (“WISP”) which identifies reasonably foreseeable internal and external risks to the security and confidentiality of customer information that could lead to the unauthorized disclosures of private personal information;
  • Continually assess the sufficiency of the institution’s safeguards and operational risks including detecting, preventing and responding to attacks against the institution’s systems;
  • Evaluate and adjust the WISP in light of relevant circumstances and changes in the company’s environment, business offerings and operations, as well as the results of security testing and monitoring;
  • The FTC has established through the Wyndham litigation that it has authority to bring claims against businesses for cybersecurity intrusions under Section 5 of the FTC Act’s unfair and deceptive umbrella;
  • The FTC expects all businesses to adhere to the cybersecurity practices required by Section 5 of the FTC Act; and
  • Businesses should carefully monitor FTC Consent Orders regarding data breaches and use those consent orders to better model their practices.
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