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February 21, 2014

University of Maryland Data Breach: 309,000 Social Security Numbers Stolen

The security breach that took place during the 2013 Christmas holiday season at Target (News - Alert) compromised the personal information of 40 million customers, which left many wondering how an experienced security team allowed this to take place. Target had the right people and a considerable investment in defensive capabilities, with top-tier SIEM products, next-generation firewalls and a 24×7 SOC team. But, a piece of malware called Kaptoxa developed by a 17 year old Russian teen was able to undo all these defense measures. This attack and others like it highlight the level of sophistication these criminals are employing to find vulnerabilities in the most robust security platforms.

The University of Maryland recently announced that a database containing 309,079 records of faculty, staff, students and affiliated personnel from the College Park and Shady Grove campuses that have been issued a University ID since 1998 was compromised. According to a statement issued by University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, the records included name, Social Security number, date of birth, and university identification number.

The records were being maintained by the school’s IT division when the breach took place. The school, which has around 27,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate students, offered a year of free credit monitoring to all the people whose data was stolen, and officials warned them to be careful of fraudulent individuals or organizations contacting them.

They recommend the victims of this crime to take the following precautions:

  • Do not share personal information over the phone, email or text. Instead, ask for a call-back number so you can verify with whom you are communicating.
  • Delete texts immediately from unfamiliar numbers or names because of the risk of malware and other viruses
  • Never click links within emails that you do not recognize. Be cautious when responding to emails that direct you to suspicious websites.

"We recently doubled the number of our IT security engineers and analysts," Loh said. "We also doubled our investment in top-end security tools. Obviously, we need to do more and better, and we will. With the assistance of experts, we are handling this matter with an abundance of caution and diligence. Computer forensic investigators are examining the breached files and logs to determine how our sophisticated, multi-layered security defenses were bypassed."

 The school is currently conducting an investigation along with state and federal law enforcement authorities to determine the cause of the breach.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

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