Officials at Educational Credit Management Corp. (ECMC), a nonprofit guarantor of federal student loans, is advising more than 3.3 million borrowers that their personal information was likely exposed last week after someone made off with a portable media device.

St. Paul, Minn.-based ECMC broke the bad news on its Web site, saying that theft took place sometime during the weekend of March 21 and 22. The compromised data included names, addresses, social security numbers and birth dates of more than 3.3 million, or roughly 5 percent of all students who took out almost 9 million loans in the past year.

"No savings, checking, or credit card information was included in the data," ECMC said, however, the nonprofit organization has established a Web site for affected borrowers to register for free credit-monitoring services and other information.

ECMC did not disclose exactly what type of portable media device was stolen and didn't comment on its policies for storing and encrypting sensitive data on the more than $11 billion in loans it services and insures.

According to the FBI, data breaches of this type have become all too common in recent years, with the number of cybercrime complaints surging 22 percent in 2009 to 336,655 cases.

Earlier this month, HSBC reported a massive theft of customer data when a former IT employee swiped more than 24,000 client files and then tried to sell them to competing banks and government tax regulators.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.