One of the largest data breaches of the year to date has been reported by Washington State University. An unencrypted hard drive containing the data of more than 1 million individuals has been stolen.
The breach is likely to be costly for the University. The 2017 Ponemon Institute Cost of a Data Breach Survey shows the average cost of data breaches is $3.62 million.
It is unlikely that the thieves were specifically looking for sensitive data as they stole the safe in which the hard drive was stored. The safe was discovered to have been stolen on April 21, 2017. Neither the safe nor the hard drive have been recovered.
In order to determine what information was stored on the hard drive, and which individuals had been impacted by the incident, Washington State University called in external computer forensics experts to reconstruct the data stored in a backup on the drive.
The drive was discovered to contain personally identifiable information of participants in its research programs. The information related to students and college graduates. The database on the drive was used to track students after graduation and contained data from 1998 to 2013. Data stored on the drive included names, addresses and Social Security numbers.
WSU cannot confirm whether the safe was opened, if the hard drive was accessed, of whether data were viewed. WSU pointed out that some of the files on the device were password protected, and accessing the data in the database may prove problematic. Viewing information stored in the relational database would have required some skill.
Due to the sensitive nature of data stored on the device, all affected individuals have been offered credit monitoring services for 12 months without charge through Experian’s ProtectMyID service.
While a theft such as this could perhaps not have easily been prevented, WSU will be reassessing its IT practices and policies, which it says will be strengthened. It is not clear whether those new practices will involve the use of encryption.