Signs of a new rash of breaches in hospitality sector, but it’s not us – Heartland

Following revelations of a breach at Tino’s Greek Cafe in Texas, a spokesperson for the Austin Police Department (APD) set off a bit of a firestorm both in the media and backchannel by raising the possibility that the breach might be at Heartland Payment Systems. As reported by KVUE’s Andrew Horansky on August 12:

Sgt. Greer did not say that Heartland was at fault. He did not rule out the possibility that their security system may have been breached.

“It’s still too early in our investigation to know that,” Sgt. Greer said.

A subsequent report by KVUE’s Jim Bergamo made an even stronger statement:

APD believes the company which handles Tino’s electronic transactions is at fault. That company, Heartland Payment Systems, was breached earlier this summer when thieves hacked into the Driskill hotel’s parent company, getting credit and debit card information of those who dined at the hotel’s restaurants. Heartland issued a statement denying any involvement in the Tino’s breach, saying the problems, “clearly point to a localized intrusion initiated within the stores, either in their point-of-sale system or as a result of other fraud…the company is unaware of any broader issue.”

While including Heartland’s denial of involvement in the Tino’s breach, Bergamo’s report repeated verbatim what Horansky had written about Heartland’s alleged involvement in the Driskill Hotel breach.

The Driskill Hotel is part of the Destination Hotels & Resorts chain. As reported previously on, the chain’s breach report had indicated that the breach was of their own computer system. It made no mention of any involvement or compromise of any payment processor.

I asked Heartland to respond to KVUE’s statements about Heartland’s alleged involvement in the Driskill Hotel breach. Steven Elefant, Chief Information Officer for Heartland, replied in an e-mail statement:

HPY has had NO other breaches besides the one we reported in 2009. With 250,000 merchants, unfortunately our name gets dragged into the news a lot, whenever one of our merchants (or sometimes someone else’s) gets mentioned. I saw this case reported in the news, but we have no record of the restaurant or its parent company being merchants of ours.

That Heartland has not had a subsequent breach is good news, of course, but it doesn’t mean that there is no new rash of compromises involving the hospitality sector. When asked whether Heartland was aware of any new rash of breaches in the hospitality sector over and above the usually high rates we have been seeing, Elefant replied:

Unfortunately there does seem to be an increase in hospitality attacks. We recently heard of one street in Southern California with 7 restaurants and a hotel that had been compromised. Only 2 of those merchants were HPY merchants, but this all points out the need for real increased security which is what we have created with our E3, End to End Encryption solution.

It sounds like we should be prepared for a lot more revelations over the next few months from the hospitality sector – unless the Secret Service or other federal agencies keep the lid on disclosures while they investigate.

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