The University of California, Berkeley, is the latest institution of higher leaning to report a computer security breach where the sensitive personal data of tens of thousands of people may have been compromised.
However, this time the thief opted for a more conventional manor in which to pilfer: by swiping a laptop containing the information of more than 98,000 people from a graduate school admissions office, the university said in a statement released on its Web site.
The computer was stolen March 11, when an individual entered a restricted area of the Graduate Division office, which was momentarily unoccupied, according to the university.
A campus employee spotted the individual leaving with the laptop and notified campus police, according to the university.
"At this time, the campus has no evidence that personal data were actually retrieved or misused," the university said.
The university said school officials were "making every reasonable effort" to notify the 98,369 individuals whose names and Social Security numbers were on the computer. California law requires organizations collecting personal data information to inform individuals who may have had their confidential material compromised.
The stolen computer contained information on most individuals who applied to graduate school at the university between fall 2001 and spring 2004, as well as those graduate students who enrolled between fall 1989 and fall 2003. The data of law school students were not lost. In some cases the information dated back to applicants from the 1970s.
Approximately one-third of all the computer's files contained dates of birth and/or addresses in addition to Social Security numbers and names, according to the school.
No incidents of identity theft have been reported related to the incident, the statement said.
This is the second time this month that a California university system became the victim of a computer security breach. Hackers broke into California State University, Chico's housing and food service computer system, which contained vital information about 59,000 current, former and prospective students, as well as faculty and staff.
A computer system that stored fundraising information of possibly up to 120,000 alumni of Boston College was also hacked at the beginning of March. The vital information also included names, addresses and Social Security numbers.
Harvard University also said a hacker gained access to its admission systems and helped applicants log on to learn whether they had gained admission before the results were released. The school said it would deny admission to those applicants who hacked into the system.