59,000 accounts possibly compromised at Chico State

March 16, 2005

By Melissa Daugherty


More than 59,000 people connected to Chico State University will be contacted for what officials are calling the largest computer hacking incident the college has seen.

Notifications to anyone whose personal information was compromised were going out Tuesday, said Joe Wills, director of public affairs at the university.

That list includes current and former Chico State faculty and staff members. But the majority are students, since the server hackers targeted held the names and Social Security numbers of current, former and prospective students.

There have been previous hacking incidents at the university, but none has affected this many people, Wills said.

While the exposed server contained personal information, there's no indication hackers will use it for illegal activity, he added.

"It's impossible to know what their motives are," Wills said.

The university was made aware of the incident about three weeks ago, after routine monitoring of its network showed that hackers illegally accessed the University Housing and Food Service server.

An investigation revealed hackers installed software to store files and attempted to break into other computers.

Meanwhile, university personnel have placed information about the incident online, which can be accessed through Chico State's Web site. The site provides links to credit reporting agencies that can detect fraud or identity theft at no charge.

The university is also developing an alternative identification system using a new, randomly assigned nine-digit ID number for students and employees in place of Social Security numbers.

Wills recalled a similar incident at San Diego State University, in which more than 120,000 people were notified. For those affected by the system breach at Chico State, notifications will be sent via the Internet for those who have current e-mail addresses and by letter to all others.

University Police are investigating the incident, but Wills said he doesn't know if it's likely the hackers will be caught. At this time, there's no indication the crime took place on campus or involved university personnel.

"They literally could be anywhere," he said.

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