E-mails about the Epsilon security breach: Marriott got it wrong, but Target and Hilton got it right

A couple of days ago, hackers stole data (customers' names and e-mails) from Epsilon, a company that manages e-mail marketing campaigns for some of the nation's biggest retailers. (Read the WSJ article "Breach Brings Scrutiny.") I must be a downstream customer of Epsilon's because within a day of the breach I had received explanation e-mails from Marriott, Target, and Hilton. (Scroll to the bottom to read the three e-mails.) Overall, Marriott's was the least effective. After a close read of these three samples, I've come up with some advice.

Four tips for writing e-mail that explains a security breach …  or other bad news

  1. Write a clear subject line. Target and Hilton used the same subject line: Important message from [Target, Hilton HHonors]. Marriott used Important Notice from Marriott International, Inc. These subject lines are truly inadequate and likely to get lost in my inbox. And they do nothing to offset the torrent of phone calls each company's contact center must have received from nervous customers. Even Explanation of Recent Security Breach would have been a better subject line.
  2. Use a specific greeting. Marriott got this right. But Target addressed me as a valued guest. I have never understood this euphemism for customer. Yes, one treats guests nicely, but one doesn't usually try to sell them things or protect their e-mail addresses. And Hilton's Dear Customer greeting is just blah. It's anonymous.
  3. Explain what the customer should do. Marriott's advice is weak: continue to be on alert. Marriott does nothing to help customers gauge the severity of the breach or to take steps to protect themselves. In contrast, Target and Hilton give bulleted, specific instructions.
  4. Sign the e-mail. When your customers become concerned about their personal data, it's time to bring in the big guns. Marriott blundered again. Their e-mail isn't even "signed" with a person's title, such as Marketing Director or Customer Service Manager. Hilton's and Target's VPs took personal responsibility in their company's e-mails.

On a related topic, Epsilon's news release on the breach — "Epsilon Notifies Clients of Unauthorized Entry into Email System" — is pure blunder. The worst thing a company can do when something bad has happened is use language that hides ownership. Plain language is a must. If ever Epsilon should have chosen active voice, this would be the time. But Epsilon's news release is full of the company's hysteria-induced use of passive voice: "On March 30th, an incident was detected where a subset of Epsilon clients' customer data were exposed by an unauthorized entry into Epsilon's email system." Who detected? Who exposed?

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Marriott's E-Mail

Dear Marriott Customer,

We were recently notified by Epsilon, a marketing vendor used by Marriott International, Inc. to manage customer emails, that an unauthorized third party gained access to a number of Epsilon's accounts including Marriott's email list.

In all likelihood, this will not impact you. However, we recommend that you continue to be on the alert for spam emails requesting personal or sensitive information. Please understand and be assured that Marriott does not send emails requesting customers to verify personal information.

We take your privacy very seriously. Marriott has a long-standing commitment to protecting the privacy of the personal information that our guests entrust to us. We regret this has taken place and apologize for any inconvenience.

Please visit our FAQ to learn more.

Sincerely,

Marriott International, Inc.

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Target's E-Mail

To our valued guests,  
 
Target’s email service provider, Epsilon, recently informed us that their data system was exposed to unauthorized entry. As a result, your email address may have been accessed by an unauthorized party. Epsilon took immediate action to close the vulnerability and notified law enforcement.

While no personally identifiable information, such as names and credit card information, was involved, we felt it was important to let you know that your email may have been compromised. Target would never ask for personal or financial information through email.

Consider these tips to help protect your personal information online:

  • Don’t provide sensitive information through email. Regular email is not a secure method to transmit personal information.
  • Don’t provide sensitive information outside of a secure website. Legitimate companies will not attempt to collect personal information outside a secure website. If you are concerned, contact the organization represented in the email. 
  • Don’t open emails from senders you don’t know.

We sincerely regret that this incident occurred. Target takes information protection very seriously and will continue to work to ensure that all appropriate measures are taken to protect personal information. Please contact Guest.Relations@target.com should you have any additional questions.

Sincerely,

Bonnie Gross
Vice President, Marketing and Guest Engagement

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Hilton's E-Mail

Dear Customer:

We were notified by our database marketing vendor, Epsilon, that we are among a group of companies affected by a data breach. How will this affect you? The company was advised by Epsilon that the files accessed did not include any customer financial information, and Epsilon has stressed that the only information accessed was names and e-mail addresses. The most likely impact, if any, would be receipt of unwanted e-mails. We are not aware at this time of any unsolicited e-mails (spam) that are related, but as a precaution, we want to remind you of a couple of tips that should always be followed:

  • Do not open e-mails from senders you do not know
  • Do not share personal information via e-mail

Hilton Worldwide, its brands and loyalty program will never ask you to e-mail personal information such as credit card numbers or social security numbers. You should be cautious of "phishing" e-mails, where the sender tries to trick the recipient into disclosing confidential or personal information. If you receive such a request, it did not come from Hilton Worldwide, its brands or its loyalty program. If you receive this type of request you should not respond to it but rather notify us at fraud_alert@hilton.com.

As always, we greatly value your business and loyalty, and take this matter very seriously. Data privacy is a critical focus for us, and we will continue to work to ensure that all appropriate measures are taken to protect your personal information from unauthorized access.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Diskin
Senior Vice President, Customer Marketing
Hilton Worldwide

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

The post A Plague of Giants appeared first on Elitist Book Reviews.

The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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