Secret Service probing US college-related hacking

Separate hacking incidents involving at least three Western colleges have touched off an investigation by the US Secret Service into what may be an identity theft ring that is targeting colleges and universities.

          Separate hacking incidents involving at least three Western colleges have touched off an investigation by the US Secret Service into what may be an identity theft ring that is targeting colleges and universities.

          Acting on a tip by the Secret Service, officials at Arizona State University in Phoenix seized about 20 computer hard drives five weeks ago, says university police Lieutenant John Sutton. Software that recorded keystrokes was found on the computers, which were located in common areas and readily available to students, he says.

          The Secret Service apparently pinpointed where the computers were located on the campus and notified school authorities.

          So far, no one at the school has reported a stolen credit card or identity theft, Sutton says. Because the affected computers are erased at the end of every semester, hackers may not have retrieved useful information from them, he adds.

          The hard drives are now being examined by computer forensic experts for any additional clues.

          Meanwhile, police at Pasadena City College arrested a 48-year-old Russian-born Florida man after receiving a tip from officials at the nearby California Institute of Technology, said city college police Sergeant Steven Lester.

          Dmitri Sinilnikov, who is also known as Michael Negron, was arrested by Pasadena City College Police Chief Phil Mullendore in May after the college received a call from officials at Cal Tech saying that someone at Pasadena City College was trying to hack into Cal Tech's computer system, Lester says.

          According to Lester, the city college IT department, acting on information it received from Cal Tech, isolated the computer in question. That allowed Mullendore to make the arrest.

          As in the Arizona case, Secret Service agents were interested in what transpired at Pasadena City College, Lester says. He declined to elaborate on the case.

          Sinilnikov has since been extradited to Florida, where he faces parole violations. He had been convicted of identity theft in Florida, and according to the terms of his parole, he wasn't supposed to leave the state, Lester says.

          Attempts today to reach the Secret Service for comment were unsuccessful, although a spokesman was quoted in other media reports as having no comment on the case.

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