By Robert Kittle
A faculty laptop computer containing the names and Social Security numbers of up to 6,300 University of South Carolina students has been stolen from a locked room in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
USC has sent letters to all of those students notifying them of the security breach and advising them to put fraud alerts on their credit reports, and get a free copy of their credit reports. USC is also providing them with a free year of credit fraud protection.
The letter says there's no evidence that any personal information has been accessed.
USC spokesman Wes Hickman says, "It would not have been stored in a file that would've made it obvious. The computer itself was password protected, so it wouldn't be easy to just log onto the computer and find the information. But it was full names and Social Security numbers."
He says the students whose information may have been on the laptop took one of four Physics courses from January 2010 through last semester.
USC also had a security breach last August, when a hacker, thought to be from a foreign country, hacked into a server at the College of Education and stole the personal information of 34,000 people. USC provided the same credit fraud protection to those people. Hickman says he knows of no reported identity thefts from that breach.
The incidents are unrelated, but the university is in the process of improving its computer systems and security to prevent future problems.
"We have an initiative right now called 'Secure Carolina.' We're spending several million dollars to go through the steps that we need to do to help protect data, protect physical property, as well as data that may be stored on computers and servers and things like that," Hickman says.
The university is also phasing out the use of Social Security numbers to identify students.