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Virginia Tech breach exposes data on 145K job applicants

University blames human error for compromise that exposed names, addresses, employment and education history

September 24, 2013 04:07 PM ET

Computerworld - A Virginia Tech official Tuesday blamed human error for a data breach that may have exposed sensitive data on about 145,000 people who applied online for jobs at the school over the past 10 years.

The compromised data includes names, addresses, employment and education history -- and data on prior convictions. In the case of about 16,650 individuals, the compromised data includes driver's license numbers.

No Social Security Numbers or dates of birth were compromised in the incident, the university said in a statement Tuesday.

Lawrence Hincker, associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech today blamed the breach on a process failure.

"The server was placed in service without our normal cyber protection protocols," thereby allowing illegal access to the data, Hincker said in an email.

The university said the oversight allowed someone to illegally access the server and potentially the data it contained. "We became aware on Aug. 28 that it had been compromised," Hincker said without elaborating on how the university discovered the problem.

In many cases, such data compromises go unnoticed until the breached entity is notified by law enforcement, credit card companies or victims.

"Mitigation in this instance means ensuring that people with responsibility for placing equipment into service follow standard procedures," Hincker noted in his comments.

All victims whose drivers-license numbers were compromised have been notified of the breach, the university said.

Under Virginia law, driver's license numbers and employment data are considered protected financial information. Organizations that suffer a breach involving such data is required under state law to issue a public notification.

In recent years, literally hundreds of universities and millions of data records have been compromised due to what security analysts say are poor security practices. The number of data breaches involving universities and other institutes of higher education does appear to be declining though.

Statistics maintained by Privacy Rights Clearinghouse shows that through Sept. 24, there have been 29 breaches involving about 371,137 records at educational institutions around the country. In contrast, universities reported a total of 85 breaches involving over 1.7 million data records in 2012.

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 email address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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



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