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Personal info of 14,000 students, staff at Auburn University compromised

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AUBURN, Ala. - The personal information of nearly 14,000 students and staff at Auburn University was comprised during a 2013 cyber attack, a university spokesperson confirms to WRBL News 3 Tuesday.

"The information on this server varies by person," Director of University Communications and Media Relations Mike Clardy says in a released statement. "[The info] mainly pertained to courses being taken by current and former Auburn students and work performed by current and former faculty and staff."

Some social security numbers were included in the data, according to Clardy. The server was associated with the College of Business computer network.

Auburn University says they were notified of the security break on Nov. 20, 2013.

"Auburn immediately patched the vulnerability and launched an internal investigation to determine the scope of the attack." Clardy says. "When it became clear that this incident could result in the unauthorized access to personal information, Auburn University hired an independent, third-party computer forensics expert to assist in identifying the full extent of data potentially exposed as a result of this incident."

The initial investigation has determined the information of 13,698 individuals was on the compromised server, which appears to have been accessed by the unidentified hacker between Oct. 21 and Nov. 20. The FBI has been notified of the incident and the investigation is continuing.

"At this time, Auburn has no evidence that the files containing personal information were actually accessed and is unaware of any actual or attempted misuse of this personal information," Clardy says. "The university is offering each person affected one free year of credit monitoring and identity theft protection services."

In a letter dated March 20, College of Business Dean Bill Hardgrave notifies those whose information was on the server.

"Auburn University takes this matter, and the security of personal information entrusted to it, seriously," Hardgrave writes. "The safety and security of your personal information remains a top priority for Auburn University."

Computer expert Nicholas Jeter says anyone on the list should be on the lookout because the hackers don't want the information for themselves.

"They go in and they steal these numbers and they sell them to people in other countries, where people can more easily use them, or to people who know how to use them better," says Jeter. "A lot of times it's simply for the sake of advancement, for the sake of information."

He says passport fabrication and other identity theft is growing rampant around the world. That's a scary thought to some Auburn students.

Senior Tara Jones says, "I've lived in this town for four years now and have come to call it home. I'd like to think that nothing can corrupt it from the outside, so it's really sad to hear that someone is messing with our Auburn family."

Senior Justy Moore adds, "You think that all the information that you give them is secure and it's not going to get out, so I think it's crazy that something like that did happen here at Auburn."

Jeter says most of the information will never be used, but with something as simple as a phone number, hackers can get into your phone and compromise much more. "You look at it and you say, ok this is a phone. This is a smart phone. I can check my mail with it. I can make calls with it," he says. "That's not how hackers think. Hackers look at it, and they say what can I make this do?"

While the university is offering a free year of identity theft protection with Experian, Jeter says that hackers may hold onto information for many years before using it.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.
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James Brierton

James joined WRBL News 3 with experience from CNN, NBC News and his own hyper-local news site. He manages the WRBL News 3 Web desk. More>>

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