Winter storm blasts Europe; 13 dead amid heavy snow, gusts

BERLIN — Hundreds of people were snowed-in in Alpine regions and warned of a high risk of avalanches, parts of Scandinavia were left without electricity, and high winds caused flight delays and cancellations in the Netherlands as deadly winter weather continued to blast Europe on Tuesday.

Several people have already been killed in weather-related incidents over the last week, and in Norway attempts to find the bodies of four skiers were again put on hold due to poor visibility and heavy snowfall. A 29-year Swedish woman and three Finns, aged 29, 32 and 36, were presumed dead after a 990-foot-wide avalanche hit the Tamok valley, near the northern city of Tromsoe, last week.

In Austria, hundreds of residents were stuck in their homes due to blocked roads, and some regions experienced power outages after snow-laden trees took down power lines.

Schools in some Austrian regions remained closed for a second day and homeowners were advised to remove snow from their roofs after several buildings collapsed. A 78-year-old man was severely injured when he fell of the roof of his home in Turrach while shoveling snow, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported.

On Monday night, 11 German hikers had to be rescued by mountaineers from a cabin near Salzburg, after having been snowed in without electricity and little food since Friday. Several people were killed by avalanches in recent days and authorities warned continuing snowfall is increasing the already high risk of more avalanches.

In southern and eastern Germany, people were also bracing for further snowfall, while in the northern coastal city of Hamburg residents were preparing for a storm flood caused by a winter gale, the German news agency dpa reported.

In neighboring Netherlands, Amsterdam’s busy Schiphol Airport warned of delays and cancellations. Dutch carrier KLM canceled 159 flights to and from European destinations.

In northwestern Dutch coastal regions expected to be hardest hit by strong winds and wild seas, local water authorities began checking dikes to make sure they were not damaged.

The Noorderzijlvest water authority said it was monitoring dikes because of debris floating in the sea after nearly 300 containers tumbled off a cargo ship in a storm last week. Many of the containers are still at sea and some have broken open, spilling their contents.

“A fridge or container that is rammed against a dike can cause damage,” the authority said on its website.

Heavy snowfall and strong winds were reported Tuesday over central Scandinavia, hampering efforts to restore electricity after a hefty storm swept through northern Europe on Jan. 2.

Swedish media reported several fender-benders and stranded vehicles along roads but nothing unusual for the season in this part of Europe.

Meanwhile, in southeastern Europe, schools in the Greek capital and many surrounding areas remained shut due to weather conditions after snowfall blanketed Athens, with temperatures in some parts of the country plunging well below freezing.

Courts in Athens were also to remain shut Tuesday, with only fast-track prosecutions being heard, the Justice Ministry said. Some rural roads, particularly those leading up to the mountains near the capital, were shut overnight and in the early morning.

Greece has been experiencing a cold snap for the past few days, with heavy snowfall, particularly in the north of the country and in mountainous areas. Temperatures have reached minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of northern Greece, while many islands have also experienced snowfall.

Mike Corder contributed reporting from The Hague, Netherlands; Jan M. Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Elena Becatoros from Athens, Greece.

Marriott reveals 5 million unencrypted passport numbers were leaked in 2018 data breach

Marriott International said Friday that 5.25 million unencrypted passport numbers were stolen as part of a data breach it disclosed in November — but it also walked back the total number of people affected.

Among the information involved in the potential theft, the passport numbers and travel itineraries represent a potential espionage bonanza, a breach made more troubling since China has been seen as the likely origin of the cyberattack.

“Compromise of those passports is historic — 5.25 million individuals are essentially exposed to cybercrime and economic espionage,” Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at Carbon Black, a Massachusetts-based cybersecurity firm, said. “The Chinese can now track individuals as they travel and leverage physical and cyber assets to spy on them.”

Paired with other sensitive data and intelligence, the passport numbers, potentially as well as compromised arrival, departure and reservation date information, could allow hostile nation states to track the movements of key government and business executives, revealing their activities and intentions, or they could be used to recruit and coerce sources, intelligence and cybersecurity experts told NBC News.

“A passport number serves as a unique identifier and is required when entering and exiting international borders, as well as checking into hotels while traveling abroad,” Jon Condra, director of Asia Pacific research at the threat intelligence firm Flashpoint, said in an email. “Knowledge of this number would in theory aid Chinese intelligence efforts at tracking and establishing surveillance upon high value targets during travel.”

Even if the passport numbers are reissued, they could still be used to predict future travel by correlating them with past records, he said.

The company didn’t offer clues to the identity of the attackers in its latest update.

“As we near the end of the cyber forensics and data analytics work, we will continue to work hard to address our customers’ concerns and meet the standard of excellence our customers deserve and expect from Marriott,” Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The company had initially said the hack compromised the data of up to 500 million guests but downgraded that to a maximum of 383 million guests. It said that number could fall further as the company identified duplicate customer records.

The revised figure still puts the breach among the largest ever reported, ahead of the credit-reporting agency Equifax’s loss of nearly 150 million customers’ data in 2017.

There were also nearly 20 million encrypted passport numbers involved in the intrusion, Marriott said, but there was no sign the attackers had stolen the master key needed to decode them back into numbers from scrambled text.

“It boggles the mind,” Mark Weatherford, former deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said in an interview. “Why was 20 percent of their sensitive passport data unencrypted?”

“This is not simply credit card information that is easily changed,” Weatherford said. “This is incredibly sensitive and personal identification information that can be abused.”

Marriott also disclosed that the attack involved data on 8.6 million encrypted credit cards, of which all but 354,000 were expired. However, it said that fewer than 2,000 unencrypted card numbers still may have been swiped.