Student Data – Missing

About 98,369 people got some bad news this spring from the graduate division of the University of California, Berkeley. No, it wasn’t a rejection notice. They learned that their personal information, including social security numbers and birth dates, may have been lifted off a stolen laptop.

The notebook in question went missing from the graduate school admissions office on March 11. It housed a wealth of personal information, including names and identifiers for people who applied to the school between 2001 and 2004, who took grad classes between 1989 and 2003, and who earned PhDs from 1976 and 1999.

Berkeley states that it has no evidence that this treasure trove of private data was actually accessed or abused. It has not received any reports of identity theft related to this laptop as of yet. Nevertheless, as a precaution, the university has recommended that these 98,369 people contact the credit reporting agencies to initiate a fraud alert. The school also set up an informational Web site.

The rub – or one of the rubs – is that not all of the affected individuals may know. According to California law, the university was obligated to attempt to reach everyone affected. But because some of the records are old, the school may have had trouble tracking down some people.

Berkeley had a similar incident occur in August 2004, when a hacker broke into campus computers and accessed 1.4 million database records. Berkeley claims that since the 2004 event, it began placing encryption software on mobile devices with sensitive data. Obviously, this policy has not been 100 percent completed.

The school can take some solace in knowing that it’s not alone in this fight. Boston College fell victim recently to info crooks who cracked into 100,000 of its alumni files. The U.S. Border Patrol has had issues with a missing top-secret laptop. And major information brokers like ChoicePoint and retailers like DSW Shoe Warehouse have been embarrassed by lost information.

Shoppers, students, and most everybody else, though, can’t take solace.

So what does this tell us? Use a good Encryption software for your laptop to be on the safe side.