Marriott International, which is based in Bethesda, MD, revealed Friday that its Starwood reservations database had been hacked which could affect up to 500 million guests, reports The Washington Post, which added that the data breach “involved information mined from the reservations database for Starwood properties, which include Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis hotels among others. An unauthorized party had accessed the database since 2014, company officials said. The breach included names, email addresses, passport numbers, and payment information, according to the hotel giant.

““We deeply regret this incident happened,” Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s chief executive said in a news release. “We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves. We are doing everything we can to support our guests, and using lessons learned to be better moving forward.”

“Marriott said that it reported the breach to law enforcement and is also notifying regulatory authorities.

“The hotel chain has set up a website and call center to answer questions at, and it is emailing affected guests beginning Friday.

“The company said Friday that it had learned on Sept. 8 that an unauthorized party had access to its systems. But it was not able to decrypt what was stolen until Nov. 19.”

For communicators, there are a number of take-away messages, including what will this data breach do to the company’s reputation in both the short and long term … and the trust they may have lost with their customers.  But, there is also a broader message, since a data breach can impact any organization:  Communicators must now focus on the whole message chain, not just the message itself.  As the threat of hacked emails and other communications grows, cyber security should be top of mind with organizations and its communicators because if your organization’s audiences, as a result of a data breach lose trust, then the messages you want to convey will not be heard, or heard only by a portion of your potential audience.

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