University reacts to New Hall security breach

Housing officials shut off student GWorld access Friday to a New Hall storage room containing archived housing information including student Social Security numbers and senior administration correspondence.

The Hatchet discovered last week that students living in New Hall could enter the storage closet, located in the first-floor community room. The room held files for the Community Living and Learning Center, which oversees Student Judicial Services, the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education and the Office of Housing Services. Housing officials were unaware that New Hall residents had access to the room and its files.

“I assumed it was for staff access,” said Andrew Sonn, director of housing services. “We wouldn’t have put (private documents) in a location that 438 students have access to.”

The room contained student files dating from 1990 to 2002. The files included student Intent to Return Forms, Housing Agreement Forms, housing lottery numbers and documentation of financial information regarding housing and meal plan payments. Social Security numbers, home addresses and local addresses were listed on most records.

Other documents included private faxes and e-mails among senior administrators, as well as some administrators’ bank account information. One file held a case about a CLLC employee accused of writing fraudulent checks from a Madison Hall bank account in 2000. Some of the CLLC files contained employee application forms, salary agreements and Community Facilitator and SJS reports.

Access was immediately shut off to the room when housing officials learned of the security breach.

“Students should not be given access to rooms where sensitive or confidential information is stored,” said Deborah Wright, director of the GWorld card program. “In this case, student access was revoked as soon as it was discovered that students had the ability to access sensitive files being stored in the space. CLLC has moved all files out of the New Hall storage room to a secure, locked location.”

The room also contains VCR and stereo equipment for a wall-size screen projector for movies and television meant for student resident use. Sonn said New Hall residents probably had access to the closet to use the VCR and projector. He said he thought the equipment had been in “disrepair,” so CLLC began storing files in the closet, not knowing it was open to the residents. The closet has been used for storage for the last five years.

Wright said New Hall residents should regain access to the now-empty storage room this week so they can access the VCR equipment.

Because CLLC staff’s GWorld cards allow access to most campus locations, Sonn said he never thought students also had access to the location.

He said the documents were either shredded or moved to a secure location inside housing offices. All other CLLC documents are stored in similar locations.

“I’m disappointed about (the situation),” Sonn said, “(but) the only thing we can do is move forward.”

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said he thought the documents should have been shredded and never stored for so long in the first place.

“It seems to me the material probably should have been better secured, and I question if there was a need to store that information for that long anyway,” Chernak said.

Wright said the GWorld Office does not grant students access to particular rooms or buildings on campus without authorization from the proper administrators.

“The GWorld Card Office did not specifically grant students access to the storage room. The GWorld Card Office did not receive notification from any authorized administrator that special access was required for that space,” Wright said. “Therefore, all students who had access to the residential doors at New Hall had access to the storage room.”

Students still had access to the room as of Thursday, and the door to the closet was ajar throughout the late afternoon and evening, allowing anyone to access the files. Sonn called the open door “negligence” on the part of CLLC staff.

“I’ll follow up on the staff about security. It is a security breach,” Sonn said. “A storage room’s a storage room, and they should be locked at all times.”

-Mosheh Oinounou contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.