Identity Theft

Virus Exposes More Than 4,000 Identities at Montana College

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A number of government organizations and universities nationwide have recently been hit with data breaches that exposed significant amounts of sensitive information on people of all backgrounds, and the latest of these incidents took place in Montana.

Employees who either currently or formerly worked at Montana State University may have been exposed in a data breach caused by a virus downloaded onto school systems, according to a report from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. In all, as many as 4,585 people might have been exposed, with information including their names and Social Security numbers possibly becoming accessible.

“These breaches are distressing, and we are taking them very seriously,” said MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig, one of the employees affected, according to the newspaper. “There’s no evidence this information was grabbed and taken. To date, we’ve not had reports of any individuals having problems.”

The breach is so large because it affects almost all of the school’s roughly 3,000 employees – except those hired since the start of June – as well as about 1,500 former ones, the report said. It was initially discovered March, but was not revealed until very recently because, the school says, of state rules about how investigations into such incidents must be conducted. MSU hired an outside forensics firm, which found malware on a hard drive in the school’s human resources department, which had access to those employees’ names and Social Security numbers (which weren’t supposed to be downloaded from the school’s central server).

The breach also prompted the school to invest in software that can spot personally or financially identifying information that’s stored on computers anywhere on the system and make sure that it cannot be accessed, the report said. Often, employees may download it for use, then stop using that specific computer, which may leave it vulnerable to be viewed by someone not authorized to access it, but this kind of program limits that ability and in turn helps to better protect data held by the school overall.

When consumers are affected by a data breach, it is vital that they keep close tabs on all their various financial documents, including their credit reports, to make sure no one has accessed any of their accounts, or opened any new ones in their name, without their knowledge. If this has happened, it is vital to report the issue to the financial institution in question as quickly as possible.

Image: iStockphoto

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