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May 6, 2004

UC San Diego Notifies Campus Community
and Others of Computer Systems Security Breach

By Dolores Davies

The University of California, San Diego is notifying past and present students, applicants, and some staff and faculty that unauthorized intruders have broken into four computers in the UCSD Business & Financial Services Department, computers which housed approximately 380,000 records of personal data including names, social security numbers, and drivers license numbers.

UCSD systems administrators have found evidence that an unauthorized intruder was utilizing disk space for DVD storage on one of the computers that was breached. There is no evidence, however, that any of the personal data housed on these computers was accessed or that any identity theft has occurred.

"We deeply regret that unauthorized intruders have broken into one of our computer networks, possibly compromising the personal information of students, staff, faculty and others," said Don Larson, UCSD's Controller. "Our main concern at this point is to inform people whose private information has been exposed by this illegal intrusion, provide them guidance on what steps they can take to protect themselves from potential identity theft, and also to assure them that we have taken strong and immediate steps to bolster our defenses against any future attacks."

UCSD began sending notification letters to people on Wednesday. Because numerous records that were exposed did not include contact information, UCSD staff have been working around the clock with the CA Department of Motor Vehicles and the U.S. Postal Service to obtain contact information to notify people of the illegal intrusion.

The notification letter provides information about the various resources available to people to guard against possible identity theft. In addition, a website has been established for people who were notified of the security breach at http://idalert.ucsd.edu. The website includes a Q&A as well as a detailed listing of contacts for credit checks and other resources for protecting against identity theft. Individuals who do not receive a notification letter but are concerned that they may have been affected, can send an e-mail message to idalert@ucsd.edu. Concerned individuals can call a special toll-free hotline --(866) 890-5560 -- set up by UCSD. Those within the 858 area code can call 822-2830.

"We want the campus community to know that we have moved as quickly as possible to inform those who could have been affected by this illegal break-in," said Larson. "But, it has taken many days, nights, and weekends of data mining to really get a handle on the situation and we needed to thoroughly understand the dimensions of the problem before notifying people. It's been a long and tedious process."

The records exposed include the personal information of approximately 178,000 former students, including alumni, and current students, 2,400 former and current faculty members, and around 1,400 former and current staff members. Also residing on one of the breached computers was personal data for approximately 198,000 people who applied to UCSD but never enrolled.

According to Larson, the security breach was first discovered over the weekend of April 16 when UCSD computer administrators discovered that two computers had been accessed by unauthorized intruders via the Internet. The computers were immediately removed from the network, and administrators conducted an emergency assessment of all network workstations. The assessment revealed that two additional computers that stored personal data had also been hacked into.

UCSD has begun a comprehensive review of administrative computer servers and related procedures to determine what additional security measures should be implemented to enhance the university's ability to protect computer networks from future cyber attacks. This effort involves a campus-wide task force of data security experts and network and information security specialists. The security breach is being investigated by campus police and other law enforcement agencies have been informed of the case, said Larson.

Over the last few years, numerous academic institutions have experienced problems with hackers breaking into their computer systems and exposing thousands of personal records. Earlier this month, the UCSD-based San Diego Supercomputer Center issued a statement alleging that they have been targeted as part of widespread cyber attacks involving numerous sites across the country, including universities and other high performance computing centers.

"The rapid deployment of interconnected high speed broadband networks has essentially given any internet user the ability to easily attack other systems," said Frank Dwyer, Associate Director for Information Technology at the San Diego Supercomputer Center and an authority on information security issues. "In addition, the number of potential vulnerabilities has grown over time, and the knowledge of how to use them is much more accessible and wide-spread. What used to require a deep understanding of computer and network systems can now be found on a web page -- complete with usage instructions."

Fundamentally, says Dwyer, "Academia is known for its culture of openness, and the free sharing of information is part of that philosophy. While these are clearly important qualities for an academic institution to have, universities now face the challenge of protecting vital data while preserving this culture of openness."


Media Contact: Dolores Davies, (858).534-5994

 

 
 
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