Breach, Data Security

Western Connecticut State notifies 235k over database gaffe

A database server, containing personal information of hundreds of thousands of people affiliated with Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Conn., was publicly accessible for nearly 3 1/2 years.

How many victims? 235,000 students, former students, parents, faculty, staff and individuals who sent their SAT scores to the college, but never attended. The vulnerable records date back to 1999.

What type of personal information? Names, Social Security numbers, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and, in some cases, grades.

What happened? Configuration controls on a general database at the university were incorrectly set, which could have allowed an outsider to remotely access the data contained within. The misconfiguration was discovered during routine maintenance. It had existed from April 2009 to September of this year.

What was the response? Victims were notified by mail. As well, the university set up a searchable database to learn if one was impacted. In addition to fixing the vulnerability, the school plans to implement additional security measures and begin expunging unneeded data.

"We've started to purge that type of information after a certain amount of time," spokesman Paul Steinmetz told on Friday. "We were just saving information that was of no longer any use to us in our servers that we should have been routinely cleaning out."

He admitted that some people, such as those who asked their high school to submit their SAT scores to Western Connecticut State but never enrolled there, will be surprised to learn that their Social Security numbers were potentially exposed.

"They'll have no idea why they are getting this notification [from us]," Steinmetz said.

Details: The college's IT staff, according to Steinmetz, don't believe any of the data was improperly accessed.

"The feeling is, among our IT people, that it would have been difficult to put all the parts together to get in, and secondly, we don't see any information that anything was taken," he said.

Source: News release, "WCSU identifies database vulnerability, provides solution," Nov. 29, 2012.

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