Report: 31% of hospitality organizations have had a data breach

Trustwave released research shedding light on the distinctive cybersecurity risks encountered by the hospitality industry. The report, "2023 Hospitality Sector Threat Landscape: Trustwave Threat Intelligence Briefing and Mitigation Strategies," explores the specific threats and risks that hospitality organizations face, along with practical insights and mitigations to strengthen their defenses.

In its research, Trustwave SpiderLabs has documented the attack flow utilized by threat groups, exposing their tactics, techniques and procedures. From brute forcing to exploiting known vulnerabilities to attacking exposed open ports, these persistent threats pose significant risks to the hospitality industry.

Nearly 31 percent of hospitality organizations have reported a data breach in their company’s history, of which 89 percent have been affected more than once in a year, according to a report by Cornell University and FreedomPay. While the average cost of a hospitality breach ($3.4 million) is lower than the cross-industry average ($4.4 million), the reputational impact can cause significant harm to the bottom line due to the highly competitive nature of the industry.

2023 Trustwave Hospitality Sector Threat Landscape

“With unique considerations, such as the adoption of contactless technology and the steady turnover of customers and employees, the hospitality industry faces a complex security landscape with distinct challenges,” Trustwave Chief Information Security Officer Kory Daniels said in a statement. “In an industry where guest satisfaction and reputation are paramount, staying secure while offering cutting-edge technology is a delicate balancing act. Our latest threat briefing is a valuable resource for security leaders within the hospitality sector, providing a comprehensive view of the threats observed by our SpiderLabs team, along with specific mitigation strategies to bolster defenses.”

The Trustwave SpiderLabs report analyzes threat groups and their methods throughout the attack cycle, from initial foothold through to exfiltration. A few key findings from the report include:

  • MOVEit RCE (CVE-2023-34362) vulnerability is one of the top exploits threat actors use to target hospitality clients. Analysis of more than 150 victims within the hospitality sector shows a significant surge in Clop ransomware attacks due to this MOVEit zero-day vulnerability.
  • HTML attachments make up 50 percent of the file types being used for email-borne malware attachments. HTML file attachments are being used in phishing as a redirector to facilitate credential theft and for delivering malware through HTML smuggling.
  • Obtaining credential access, primarily by using brute force attacks, was behind 26 percent of all reported incidents. This tactic has threat actors leveraging valid accounts to compromise systems by simply logging in using weak passwords that are vulnerable to password guessing.

The report also explores emerging and prominent trends in the hospitality industry, including: 

  • Artificial intelligence and generative AI: Generative AI is a powerful tool that is being increasingly used by the hospitality sector to improve the guest experience with services like chatbots or language translation, opening the industry up to unique implications and risks.
  • Contactless technology: Newer features like contactless table payments and smartphone-card reader integrations offer a seamless experience to businesses and customers alike, but also introduce new vectors of attack.
  • Third-party risk and exposure: An increasing reliance on third-party vendors for services, such as HVAC, vending machines, and point-of-sale systems, creates additional risk as more vendors have access to sensitive data or systems.

Cybersecurity challenges unique to the hospitality industry

  • Seasonal and less sophisticated workforce: The hospitality sector employs a diverse workforce, with seasonal and less sophisticated staff often engaged during peak periods to meet demand. This presents a distinct risk of insider threat, intentional or not, due to the challenge of providing consistent security training to a continually changing group of employees.
  • Constant user turnover: Hospitality establishments encounter a fresh set of users virtually every day. This ongoing cycle demands consistent uptime, addresses bandwidth constraints and strives to minimize potential exposure to security threats.
  • Dirty networks: Given the substantial volume of network users, whether they’re hotel guests or individuals connecting to coffee shop Wi-Fi, organizations within hospitality must operate under the assumption their networks are highly susceptible to attacks due to the sheer number of users. This leads to hesitancies to deploy patches and configuration changes that might have an adverse impact on day-to-day operations.
  • Physical security concerns: Unlike conventional office buildings where employee access is typically controlled through access cards, hospitality establishments face cybersecurity risks due to the accessibility of hardware by guests. For instance, the server closet in a hotel could be left unlocked and easily accessible or a thumb drive could easily be inserted into a nearby device.
  • Franchise model: The franchise framework leads to disparities in policy consistency and implementation across the industry, including cybersecurity measures. Different franchisers and franchisees adopt varied business models, resulting in divergent cybersecurity practices.