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Viruses stole City College of S.F. data for years

The viral infestation detailed by the Chronicle is horrific in (at least) two ways: first, that data was leeched from university networks for year after year, and second that it’s only now – and perhaps by happenstance – that the IT staff detected the security breach. From the article:

a closer look revealed a far more nefarious situation, which had been lurking within the college’s electronic systems since 1999. For now, it’s still going on. So far, no cases of identify theft have been linked to the breach. That may change as the investigation continues, and college officials said they might need to bring in the FBI.

Each night at about 10 p.m., at least seven viruses begin trolling the college networks and transmitting data to sites in Russia, China and at least eight other countries, including Iran and the United States, Hotchkiss and his team discovered. Servers and desktops have been infected across the college district’s administrative, instructional and wireless networks. It’s likely that personal computers belonging to anyone who used a flash drive during the past decade to carry information home were also affected.

Some of the stolen data is probably innocuous, such as lesson plans. But an analysis shows that students and faculty have used college computers to do their banking, and the viruses have grabbed the information, Hotchkiss said.

It is for precisely this kind of reason that regular updates of common, lab-based, computer equipment must be performed. These computers must centrally factor into campus security plans because of their accessibility to the public and a broad student population. I simply cannot believe that systems were so rarely refreshed, so rarely updated, and so poorly secured that a mass infection of a campus could occur, unless a university security and data protection policy were not being implemented by staff. Regardless, what has happened at this campus is an inexcusable failure: lessons should be learned, yes, but heads should damn well roll as well.