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The Sunday Herald in Glasgow, Scotland, called it "one of the most audacious cyber-crimes ever."
The Best Western hotel chain, supposedly robbed of some 8 million customer records, has responded by accusing the paper of being sensationalistic. It counts a mere 13 records that may have been exposed as a result of "suspicious activity."
The Sunday Herald on Monday reported that late Thursday night, "a previously unknown Indian hacker successfully breached the IT defenses of the Best Western Hotel group's online booking system and sold details of how to access it through an underground network operated by the Russian mafia."
The report claims that records of every customer to have booked a room at one of the Best Western's 1,312 continental hotels since 2007 -- 8 million -- were taken.
In a public statement, Best Western questioned the Sunday Herald's story, saying that it "is grossly unsubstantiated" and that the paper's claims about its customer records "are not accurate."
"We have found no evidence to support the sensational claims ultimately made by the reporter and newspaper," the statement says. "Most importantly, whereas the reporter asserted the recent compromise of data for past guests from as far back as 2007, Best Western purges all online reservations promptly upon guest departure."
In an e-mail, a Best Western spokesperson said, "There was one instance of suspicious activity at a single hotel with respect to 13 guests, who are being notified. We are working with the FBI and international authorities to investigate the source of the other claims, which were never presented to us for investigation prior to publication of the Herald story. We have found no suspicious activity to support them."
Best Western, said the spokesperson, plans to release further details as its investigation progresses.