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Computer theft raises issue of data security on campus

Lauren Hennen

Issue date: 9/11/09 Section: News
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Over 1300 names and social security numbers were leaked after a university laptop was stolen this summer.
Media Credit: Rene Mansi
Over 1300 names and social security numbers were leaked after a university laptop was stolen this summer.
[Click to enlarge]
In late July this past summer, a computer belonging to a Case faculty member was stolen. Laptop thefts are common on college campuses, but this theft was significant for one reason: the computer stolen had the names and social security numbers of 1384 Case students and alumni.

Prior to 2007, students' social security numbers had doubled as their student ID numbers. It was encoded on student ID cards and required whenever a student registered for classes. However, both students and campus faculty and staff recognized the potential risks inherent in widespread use of social security numbers, and Case Information Technology Services drafted a policy to eliminate the practice of using social security numbers as student identifiers. Under the new policy, social security numbers are used only for financial aid applications or student employment records.

"We've done a pretty good job of getting rid of social security numbers in common workflow spaces. It's not in the library, it's not on your badge," said Thomas Siu, Chief Information Security Officer at Case. "But there's still old data we have to go get."

Before 2006, professors would receive class lists containing both the names and social security numbers of the enrolled students. And while these documents now contain student ID numbers, evidence of the old system has been hard to eradicate. It persists, in part, through old class lists.

"In conversation that I've had with faculty, many are not aware they have data of this nature that needs to be protected or removed," said Siu.

The existence of class lists and other records containing student social security numbers poses the risk of identity theft, and it is a risk that ITS takes seriously. When the computer was stolen in July, an investigation into the theft was launched. Because the computer's data had been backed up, the university was able to determine who had been impacted by the theft. These people were informed of the security breach in an email sent out in August. In the email, the university offered a link to Zander Insurance, where affected students and alumni could sign up for a year's worth of free identity theft protection.
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In This Issue


  • A conversation with: Dr. Kenney
  • Can you name this place?
  • Computer theft raises issue of data security on campus
  • Footlighters puts $8000 Student Life Improvement Grant to good use
  • Have you heard about YUVA?
  • Mary Robinson awarded 2009 Inamori Ethics Prize
  • USG Briefs


  • Bocce club has rich history
  • Men's soccer ties, loses at Denison
  • New Spartan coaches announced
  • Pro Sports
  • Volleyball

Fun Page

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  • Letters to the Editor
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  • Hitting the Spot: BLK JKS
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  • "Classic" clashes: Spartans dominate Muskingum, tie Buffalo

Spartan Spotlight

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Worst Case Scenario

  • The Worst Case Scenario
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