Mizzou's Help Desk Hack

Attacker accesses more than 22,000 student records by cracking university's computer trouble-reporting system



A flaw in a help desk program and an undeleted database report led to the theft of personal information involving more than 22,000 workers in the University of Missouri system last week, officials revealed yesterday.

The vulnerabilities resulted in a hack that allowed retrieval of names and Social Security numbers of 22,396 individuals, the officials said. Those affected were employees of any campus within the UM System during calendar year 2004 who were also current or former students at the Columbia campus.

It's not the first time this year the university has struggled with network security. (See University Cleans Up Bots on Campus.) And universities in general have proven vulnerable to hacks and data losses in recent months. (See UCSF Break-In Puts Info on 46,000 at Risk, Hack Attack Forces Texas A&M to Change 96,000 Passwords, and Study: Two Hacks a Minute.)

The problem began last Thursday, when the university's IT staff noted unusual activity on "a computer application" that it declined to name. On Friday morning, UM technicians identified a large series of errors caused by faulty queries to the application and an associated database. The errors were first assumed to be caused by a problem with a system used to track computer help-desk repair calls using the same database, officials said.

The attack was confirmed by UM technicians, who disabled the account that was being used by two overseas IP addresses to access the database from China and Australia. The vulnerable Web application is no longer available online.

The hackers got the 2004 information through a Web page used to make queries about the status of trouble reports to the university’s IT help desk in Columbia. The information from 2004 had been compiled for a report, and the resulting data was not subsequently removed from the computer system, officials said.

The hacker was able to reach the information by making thousands of queries over a span of hours, allowing the identities to be exposed one at a time, according to the university. Records show the first attack -- from an IP address in China -- started at about 5:30 a.m. on Thursday and ended at about 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. Another attack, which came from an IP address in Australia, started around 11 a.m. on Thursday and lasted until about 7:30 a.m. on Friday.

The university is advising the individuals to file a fraud alert on their credit files. Local police and the FBI are also looking into the hack.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio
 

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