University of Colorado discloses data breach

The University of Colorado at Boulder says it is investigating the impact of a data breach discovered last Friday that may have given an attacker access to private information on 9,000 students and 500 instructors.

Three computers used in the Division of Continuing Education and Professional Studies were discovered to be compromised, and the university has called in Applied Trust Engineering to help with a forensics investigation. It didn't take special software or skills to notice one computer was compromised, though: It was performing tasks such as re-booting, much to the surprise of users and IT staff.

"The computer started misbehaving," says Greg Stauffer, IT services communications manager. "People saw suspicious behavior, like the re-booting." So far, malicious code found on the computer has been traced to the breach.

The computer, which was assigned to administrative staff, had stored on it the names, addresses, or grades and Social Security Numbers of about 9,000 students and 500 staff instructors specific to the years 1997 to 2003. The university will be mailing letters to affected parties by the end of this week.

Stauffer says the university has been working to make sure this sort of inappropriately stored legacy data is removed from its computers, but had not managed to reach this one in time. The University of Colorado at Boulder began switching from Social Security numbers to a student identification number system in 2005.

Stauffer says Applied Trust Engineering is conducting forensics work to try to determine whether the computer intruder may have accessed the personal data associated with students and faculty, and how extensive the breach may be. Stauffer says the results are expected to be reported this week. This is the not the first time the university has had to cope with the impact of a data breach, Stauffer acknowledged.

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