China behind Marriott data breach, investigators conclude

Chinese hackers were behind the Marriott security breach that left the personal information of up to 500 million hotel guests exposed, investigators have concluded, The New York Times reported on Tuesday

The hack was part of an intelligence-gathering effort by China that affected millions more Americans, sources familiar with the investigation told the Times. Investigators suspect that the hackers were working for the Chinese Ministry of State Security. 

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U.S. intelligence has concluded that, since 2014, Chinese hackers have been working to build a database that includes the names of U.S. executives and government officials who have security clearances, government officials told the newspaper.

Sources familiar with Marriott's internal investigation told Reuters last week that the investigation had determined China was a leading suspect because the methods used in the recent hack were similar to the tools, techniques and procedures that Chinese hackers have deployed before. 

Marriott last month said it was alerted in September to the breach by an internal security tool, which revealed there had been unauthorized access to the Starwood Hotels reservation database since 2014. 

Marriott spokeswoman Connie Kim on Monday told the Times the firm "had no information about the cause of this incident and we have not speculated about the identity of the attacker."  

The Department of Justice is planning to announce indictments against Chinese hackers working for intelligence and military bodies, four government officials told the Times.

China is denying any involvement in the hack, which included credit card information and passport data. It is the second largest U.S. cyber breach in terms of the number of people affected.

“China firmly opposes all forms of cyberattack and cracks down on it in accordance with the law,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement to the Times. “If offered evidence, the relevant Chinese departments will carry out investigations according to the law.” 

Officials on Tuesday told the Times that the Marriott hack is only one component in a multipronged campaign to steal information stemming from a 2014 hack by China into the Office of Personnel Management. 

The Marriott data offers China insight into the travel habits of the customers. 

“Big data is the new wave for counterintelligence,” James Lewis, an expert at D.C. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Times.