Tufts warns 106,000 alums, donors of security breach

April 12, 2005

By Paul Roberts


Alumni of Tufts University in Boston have been notified that personal information stored on a server used by the university for fund-raising could have been exposed to intruders.

The university detected a possible security breach in an alumni and donor database after noticing abnormal activity on the server in October and December. The server was managed by a third-party vendor, according to a statement on Tufts' Web site. The incident is almost identical to a breach on a fund-raising system used by Boston College in March, and follows reports of other information theft incidents at California State University, Chico, and the University of California, Berkeley, in recent months.

Tufts sent a letter to 106,000 alumni and donors who could be affected by the breach on April 7 as a precaution. Tufts said that it did not have any evidence that the information stored in the database was retrieved or misused, said Betsey Jay, director of advancement, communications, and donor relations at Tufts.

The system in question belonged to the university, but was running software and being managed by RuffaloCODY, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a software company that assists nonprofit organizations with fund-raising, membership and enrollment. The server was being used to support the university's Advancement telefund operation, in which students are paid to call alumni and other donors to solicit gifts for the university, Jay said.

Tufts detected a high volume of unusual behavior on the system that indicated it might have been used as a distribution point in a file-sharing network. However, university IT staff were not able to confirm that any sensitive files were copied or that there was misuse of information on the system, Jay said.

Tufts did not initially disclose the security breach, but was prompted to do so after coverage of other recent security breaches, Jay said.

"We started to realize that what we had seen wasn't confirmation of misuse, but that we should give donors and alums the information (about the breach) as a precaution," she said.

In its letter, Tufts recommended that recipients of the letter notify their bank and ask credit bureaus to issue fraud alerts and check for any unusual activity in their name. The university also set up a toll-free support line to assist individuals whose information may have been compromised in the incident.

In March, Boston College (BC) notified 120,000 alumni that their Social Security numbers and other personal information might have been compromised. As with the incident at Tufts, that notice followed the discovery of a security breach on a third-party server that the university was using for fund-raising.

BC is also a RuffaloCODY customer, according to information on RuffaloCODY's Web site. Both Tufts and BC are listed as customers of the company's CAMPUSCALL product, which is described as a phonathon automation tool. Other area universities use CAMPUSCALL as well, including The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University and Harvard University Law School. However, Tufts and BC are both listed as "Managed Sites," whereas the other schools are not.

Calls to RuffaloCODY were not immediately returned.

The University of Massachusetts (UMASS) campus at Lowell is a RuffaloCODY managed site as well, according to the company's Web page.

Jim Packard, an information technology security specialist at UMASS Lowell said that he had seen signs on campus that mentioned RuffaloCODY but was not sure whether the company operated a managed server on the campus. Calls to the UMASS Lowell Alumni office were not immediately returned.

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