Most hospitality businesses allocate time and capital to efficiently collect and process data in order to improve sales, customer service and loyalty, and operations efficiency. Technological advances have made it easier to manage a wide range of information about customers, vendors, and employees. Virtually all businesses that use computer systems are to some extent vulnerable to costly exposures associated with system breaches.
Hotels and restaurants are no exception and, in fact, have much higher levels of exposure because they collect vast amounts of private data from customers as a part of their day-to-day operations through credit card transactions, online reservations, and rewards programs. Private data may be both personal (names, physical addresses, email addresses, social security numbers) and financial (credit card and banking). While technology helps your business run more efficiently, it also increases your risk for data privacy and security breaches, as well your liability to affected customers. Unfortunately, many hospitality companies have not upgraded their risk management plans to address the inherent exposures associated with today’s sophisticated data management. A breach can severely impact the financial stability and continuing success of a company, and so it’s important to understand the risks associated with data breaches and to develop plans to mitigate them.
Hospitality: A Targeted Industry
According to Nicholas J. Percoco, hospitality businesses often proves to be an easy target for criminals who are looking for high transaction volume, a large database of customer records, and low barriers to entry. In fact, organizations analyzing data breach trends consistently cite hospitality as the single most vulnerable industry:
Percoco, head of Trustwave Spider Labs, believes that the criminal element targets the food and beverage industry because of high transaction volume, which makes it possible to turn criminal activities into money very quickly. Trustwave Spider Labs found that food and beverage companies not only have systems that are vulnerable to infiltration, but often fail to detect a breach until long after it has occurred. Their study revealed that criminals stay undetected in a breached food and beverage system for an average of 173.5 days. The combination of high transaction volume and undetected breach time can prove devastating to a business.
A common misconception is that only large organizations need to worry about protecting against data breaches. In Verizon’s 2012 Report, two-thirds of the 855 investigated incidents occurred at businesses with 11 to 100 employees, a common size for many hospitality enterprises. However, no hospitality company is immune. Smaller, independent enterprises are vulnerable because they are small and may have systems that are easily breached. On the other hand, franchise operations often share a regional, national, or international data system that, once breached, can affect all or most of the individual franchisees.
Most businesses today have data privacy and security exposures, which may include 1) a presence on the Internet, 2) data on servers connected to the Internet, 3) file maintenance that contains personal and/or financial information, and 4) transmission, storage, or processing of data such as credit card payments. Businesses in the hospitality industry need to be particularly cognizant of these exposures. It is important to develop programs to reduce the possibility of a breach and take steps to mitigate the impact of a breach before one occurs.
Costs of a Data Breach
A company that experiences a breach can incur a range of costs that quickly add up to a substantial loss. When private data is compromised, your expenses could include notification and claims processing, credit monitoring services for affected individuals (to lessen the potential for civil suits), and employment of a public relations team (to assist with damage control and preservation of your reputation). There may be additional costs associated with finding and fixing the root cause of the breach, and recovery of lost data. Finally, you may have liability claims for failure to have reasonable safeguards in place to protect personal and financial data.
In the event of a breach, you are responsible for notifying the affected individuals. In fact, 46 states have enacted broad privacy laws pertaining to notification whenever personal or financial information might have been compromised, lost, or stolen. Furthermore, if private data of individuals from other states is affected, you must comply with each applicable state’s laws. For those in the hospitality industry, compliance can be costly and time consuming because it entails research into the privacy laws of the state of residency for every potential affected customer. Since many hotels and restaurants depend upon customers from all over the United States (as well as other countries), notification requirements and the related costs are of particular importance. The possibility of regulatory violations and fines can be drastically reduced if you have an adequate plan in place ahead of time.
Estimates of the average incurred cost for a breach vary between the studies, but one thing is evident: it’s expensive. According to the Ponemon Institute’s 2011 report, the average cost of a data breach in 2009 was $6.75 million per incident and $204 per individual record. The immediate financial cost of a data breach is only part of the story. It can cause a loss of customer trust and a tarnished reputation, which can be extremely difficult and expensive to rehabilitate. This is especially true for hotels and restaurants, which usually have high public profiles.
Data Security and Risk Management Basics
There is no doubt that the risks associated with data retention and transfer are real and significant. For a hospitality organization, it is of paramount importance to identify areas of exposure and develop adequate risk management programs that address data privacy and security. To help you get started, here is a list of questions (from Cyber insurance specialist Swett & Crawford) with my added commentary:
Data Breach Insurance Coverage Basics
Over 30 insurance carriers provide coverage that is tailored to specifically address exposures related to data breach. Naming conventions vary by insurance carrier, but some of the more common ones are Data Security, Data and Privacy, Cyber Liability, and Data Breach insurance. Coverage may be written on a standalone basis or combined with your Professional Liability or Media policy.
A properly structured policy will provide both first and third party coverage. First party coverage pays for direct losses incurred as a result of a breach including (but not necessarily limited to) notification costs, recovery of lost and destroyed data, forensic investigation expenses, credit monitoring and call center services for affected customers, business interruption losses, extortion demands, and public relations expenses. Third-party coverage protects companies from liability suits filed by individual customers, credit card companies, regulators, and various other third parties. Coverage should extend to defense costs as well as damages. Depending upon the carrier and insurability from a legal standpoint, it may also cover regulatory defense, fines, and penalties.
As a hospitality business, your financial stability and continuing success depend upon a proactive approach to data security risk management. Lax security practices or a security gap could result in a breach that encompasses massive amounts of stolen data, creating financial loss for your customers, vendors, and employees, as well as your business. It’s important to do all that you can to protect yourself from a breach. It’s equally important to devise a solid risk management plan, including insurance coverage, to mitigate the severity of loss when one occurs. If you have not yet done so, consult with your insurance professional about your data exposure and risk management solutions.