Expert computer hackers have struck again, this time affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Florida.
Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) officials reported that computer attackers recently breached the integrity of a server maintained by the Florida Panhandle college. As a result of the widespread hack, nearly 300,000 records were stolen and at least 50 acts of identity theft have already been reported, according to the school’s president, Dr. Ty Handy.
While the hack compromised vital information regarding about 2,200 employees, the effect is believed to be even more widespread, as the hackers are said to have also accessed information on every student who was eligible for Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships from 2005 to 2007. In addition to the approximate 200,000 scholars, an estimated 76,000 NWFSC student records, past and current, are also suspected to have been compromised. Officials estimate the hack took place between late May and early September of this year.
An investigation is underway by a cybercrime investigator from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office as well as an external consultant. Handy said the access pathway used to breach the integrity of the main server has since been sealed.
NWFSC has made an effort to notify all students and employees affected by the large-scale data breach, and the college is working with the Division of Florida Colleges in the Department of Education.
According to a memo from Handy to school staff, the hackers were able to access personal information by accessing several files. It is believed they were able to commit identity theft by stealing names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and direct deposit account numbers. Directory information, including phone numbers and college email addresses, may have also been compromised.
Using the stolen data, the hackers took out loans with Canadian payday loan services Discount Advance Loans (iGotit.com, Inc.) and PayDayMax, Inc. with loan payments linked to employee bank accounts. The stolen information was also used to apply for Home Depot credit cards using employee names.
Other Identity Theft Cases in the News
This security breach follows on the heels of several recent instances of identity theft. Barnes & Noble customers were advised in October to watch for suspicious activity when credit card hackers stole credit card data from 63 stores across the nation.
In South Carolina, tax information was stolen last month from an estimated 657,000 businesses in a massive security breach at the state Department of Revenue. It is believed the theft will affect the records of up to 3.6 million people.
The state has offered consumers affected by the breach one year of credit monitoring and insurance from Experian, as well as a lifetime credit-fraud resolution agreement. The cost of providing such services has been capped at $12 million.
Credit card scams and identity theft have become a worldwide crisis. FBI Director Robert Mueller told a group of security professionals at a recent conference that cybercriminals are evolving into a threat that rivals terrorist groups and soon will pose as one of the greatest threats to the United States.
If You Suspect Your Personal Information Has Been Compromised
In reaction to the NWFSC breach, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office offered advice to suspected victims of this crime and anyone looking to combat identity theft. The sheriff’s office recommends that people who believe their personal information has been compromised flag their credit reports by calling nationwide credit reporting companies and placing fraud alert on their credit reports.
Creating an identity theft report is also vital, as it will ultimately assist in having fraudulent information removed from a credit report, as well as stopping a company from collecting debts created by identity theft. It’s equally important to report Internet-related criminal complaints crime to authorities using the IC3 website, created as a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].
- Wagner, K. (2012, November 11). Nearly 300,000 Florida Students and Faculty Hacked and at Risk of Identity Theft. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/5950899/nearly-300000-florida-students-and-faculty-hacked-and-at-risk-of-identity-theft
- Ragan, S. (2012, October 10) Northwest Florida State College Says Clever Attackers Were Successful in Data Breach. Retrieved from http://www.securityweek.com/northwest-florida-state-college-says-clever-attackers-were-successful-data-breach
- Cowley, S. (2012, March 2). FBI Director: Cybercrime will eclipse terrorism. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2012/03/02/technology/fbi_cybersecurity/index.htm
- Shain, A. (2012, November 1). Data security breach expands to 657K SC businesses; suit filed against state. Retrieved from http://www.thestate.com/2012/11/01/2503354/657000-sc-business-records-also.html
- Crestview News Bulletin. (2012, October 11). Sheriff's Office offers tips to NWFSC computer hacking victims. Retrieved from http://www.crestviewbulletin.com/education/sheriff-s-office-offers-tips-to-nwfsc-computer-hacking-victims-1.27882