California university officials have warned nearly 600,000 students and faculty since January that they might be exposed to identity theft following incidents where computer hard drives loaded with their private information were lost or hacked into, the Associated Press (AP) has reported.
The latest instance of missing equipment occurred in June at California State University, San Marcos. An auditor lost a small external hard drive for a laptop computer. Personal data, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and other identifiers for 23,500 students, faculty, and staff in the California State University system were contained on the missing hard drive, AP reported.
At the University of California, San Diego, and San Diego State University, hackers reportedly broke into computers earlier this year and obtained access to files of personal data for more than 500,000 current or former students, applicants, staff, faculty, and alumni.
Officials from the Cal State system and UC San Diego said they have no evidence any personal data were stolen.
At the University of California, Los Angeles, a stolen laptop in June led officials to notify as many as 145,000 blood donors that their data might be in the open.
A California law requiring that people be notified when they might be exposed to identity theft took effect in July 2003. State officials say that might explain the rash of recent notices.
“There’s no reason to assume that suddenly in July 2003 all these computer security breaches started occurring,” said Joanne McNabb of the Office of Privacy Protection in the California Department of Consumer Affairs. “It’s just that we know about them now, when we didn’t hear before.”