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University of North Florida breach exposes data on 107,000 individuals

University networks are said to be frequently breached because they are rich targets, enrolling thousands of students a year

October 15, 2010 07:29 PM ET

Computerworld - The University of North Florida has notified about 107,000 current and prospective students of the compromise of their personal information after a server containing the data was recently discovered to have been breached by unknown intruders.

Nearly 53,000 of those affected had their names and Social Security numbers compromised, while the rest had their names and dates of birth exposed in the incident.

Joanna Norris, associate director of public relations at the university, said on Friday that all of those whose data was exposed had been notified via e-mail and postal mail.

A statement released on Friday by the university noted that the intruders do not appear to have accessed student academic records or financial aid information.

However, in some cases, those behind the intrusion may have had access to ACT and SAT test scores, a separate university alert added.

The intrusion, which occurred between Sept. 24 and Sept. 29, was carried out by someone using a computer that appears to have been based outside the U.S., Norris said.

The breached computer has been secured and controls have been added to mitigate the chances of something similar happening again, Norris said.

Norris said the intrusion was discovered by university IT staff on Sept. 29 during a routine system review. She did not say what system was involved in the breach, citing the ongoing investigation, which includes the FBI.

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, which has been maintaining a chronology of data breaches since 2005, lists nearly four dozen similar breaches at universities so far this year.

Since the beginning of 2009, there have been a total of 128 breaches at U.S academic institutions, resulting in the compromise of close to 1.7 million records, the group says.

Josh Shaul, vice president of product management at security vendor Application Security, said that higher educational institutions were hit on a regular basis because of a combination of reasons. For one, university networks are far more open and accessible by design compared with corporate environments. And schools' IT environments are also decentralized and often have multiple, independent IT groups functioning within it.

University networks are also rich targets, with schools enrolling thousands of new students every year and having many employees with access to personally identifiable information.

Cybercriminals are targeting university environments with increasing frequency "because it seems to be an easy way for them to steal data," Shaul said. "A lot of universities are bringing in security after they have been breached."

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at Twitter @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed Vijayan RSS. His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Read more about Cybercrime and Hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Topic Center.



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