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Hacker helps applicants breach security at top business schools

Among the institutions affected were Harvard, Duke and Stanford

By Linda Rosencrance
March 4, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A computer hacker helped applicants to some of the nation's best business colleges and universities gain access to internal admissions records on the schools' Web sites.
Using the screen name "brookbond," the hacker broke into the online application and decision system of ApplyYourself Inc. and posted a procedure students could use to access information about their applications before acceptance notices went out. The hack was posted in a Business Week online forum mainly frequented by business students, said Len Metheny, CEO of the Fairfax, Va.-based ApplyYourself.
About 400 colleges and universities use the admissions management system, which is hosted and managed by ApplyYourself, to manage their admissions workflow. But only about a half-dozen schools use the decision management module, which allows individuals to determine if they have been accepted to a particular school, Metheny said.
The affected schools include Harvard Business School, MIT's Sloan School of Management and business schools at Dartmouth College, Duke University and Stanford University.
"What the procedure did was it allowed an individual student who had an application filed at some particular schools that are using our decision management module to input certain parameters and allow them access to the admission-decision page prior to when that school intended it to be published," Metheny said.
If a school had no admission-decision information in its database, the student instead got only a blank page. About 150 students tried to execute the procedures to access data from among those half-dozen schools; the vast majority were met with a blank screen, he said.
"We were notified by e-mail by somebody who saw a posting on a Business Week forum that went out there around 12:15 a.m., March 2," Metheny said. "We immediately moved to make modifications to our admissions management system to close access through the published procedure that was put out there."
Those modifications went into effect at 9:50 a.m. EST on Wednesday, Metheny said.
"So there was approximately nine hours that there was access to the specific page," he said. "This did not grant access to the general database or to other people's information -- the person could only log into his or her admissions account. It was his or her specific decision information that was available."
After ApplyYourself became aware of the breach, it immediately contacted Harvard Business School and, very shortly thereafter, the other schools. Metheny said this was the first time ApplyYourself's systems have been compromised.
Harvard Business School spokesman David Lampe said the school found out about the problem when an applicant called to say there was a breach in the system. "We found



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