Since I started this blog almost five years ago, I've written about a variety of data breaches, where sensitive customer and employee information was stolen. Sometimes, the breach involved hackers breaking into a company's website server. Often, it included the theft of a laptop computer or flash drive left in an employee's parked car. Sometimes, it was "insider identity theft" by an employee or contractor. This latest breach involved a method I hadn't heard before.
About April 25, 2012, Choice Hotels notified the appropriate state agencies in both California and New Hampshire of a data breach affecting residents in those states. According to the breach letter submitted by the company, sensitive customer information (e.g., credit card numbers, drivers license numbers, passport numbers, Social Security numbers) were not entered into the proper database fields in the company's customer systems. As a result, this sensitive data wasn't protected (e.g., encrypted), and was passed along to the company's marketing partners where the sensitive data was inadvertently printed on marketing envelopes mailed to customers.
Choice Hotels claims that less than 0.001 percent of guest stays were affected. The breach was discovered in December 2011, and the company immediately stopped using the database for markeing purposes. The company hired Kroll Advisory Solutions to investigate the problem with a "forensic analysis." About 59 New Hampshire residents were affected and have already been notified.
The company's breach notice did not identify the company's marketing partners. Its website Privacy and Security Policy states that:
"If you reside in California and have provided Choice your personally identifiable information, you may request a list from us of third parties with whom we shared your personally identifiable information for their own direct marketing purposes during the preceding calendar year..."
Choice Hotels operates several lodging brands including Clarion, Comfort Inn, EconoLodge, MainStay Suites, and Rodeway Inn. A copy of the breach notice is available at the New Hampshire Department of Justice website and here (Adobe PDF; 154k bytes). The California Attorney General website also includes a copy of the breach letter sent to affected consumers. The company has reportedly contracted with TransUnion Interactive for for free credit monitoring services for breach victims.