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Failure to patch flaw exposes data on 60,000 at Antioch

Unpatched Sun Solaris server breached at least three times

April 4, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Windows systems may be the most frequently attacked by malicious hackers, but they certainly are not the only targets.

Serving as the latest reminder of that fact is Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which recently disclosed that Social Security numbers and other personal data belonging to more than 60,000 students, former students and employees may have been compromised by multiple intrusions into its main ERP server.

The break-ins were discovered Feb. 13 and involved a Sun Solaris server that had not been patched against a previously disclosed FTP vulnerability, even though a fix was available for the flaw at the time of the breach, university CIO William Marshall said today.

The university was alerted to the breach while IT officials were investigating a separate virus that had also infected the system and was broadcasting obscene material from it, Marshall said. That particular virus was programmed to broadcast the material on the 13th of every month and was detected by the university's antivirus software, when it started doing so on Feb. 13, he said.

"When we went in and did a further investigation, we found that there was an IRC bot installed on the system," Marshall said.

According to Marshall, the university ERP system, based at Antioch's main campus in Yellow Springs, appears to have been breached on three separate occasions.

The first break-in occurred June 9, 2007, when intruders gained remote access to the ERP server via the unpatched Solaris FTP vulnerability. "The first one was an automated attack. It happened very, very quickly," Marshall said. The IRC bot discovered Feb. 13 appears to have been installed on the system one day after the initial intrusion, he said. Forensic analysis shows that the third time the server was illegally accessed was Oct. 11, 2007, Marshall said.

As far as the university can tell, the data on the server appears not to have been illegally downloaded or copied by the intruders, he said.

Following the discovery of the intrusions, the infected server was taken offline, the data on it was backed up and the operating system was reinstalled from scratch, Marshall said. "That's the only way we can be sure that we got everything on it that shouldn't be there," he said.

The compromised server contained information on current and former students and employees across all of Antioch's six campuses going back to 1996, Marshall said.

The system also contained information on individuals who had applied to Antioch but may have never attended the university and information on vendors who may have supplied their Social Security numbers in order to get paid. The compromised data included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and academic records.

Notices informing the affected individuals about the breach and urging them to take measures to protect against ID theft were sent out last week, Marshall said. There are a couple of reasons for the delay, he added. First, the university needed at least two weeks to understand the full scope of the breach, and the university did not want to compromise investigations by law enforcement authorities by disclosing the breach prematurely, he said.

The main lesson from the intrusions is to make sure that patches get installed in a timely fashion whatever the environment, Marshall said. Just because Windows systems get patched and attacked the most often is no reason for getting complacent about security on other operating systems, he said.

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.



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