‘Mistake’ puts students’ Social Security info online

By Collin Quick

The NIU Department of Mathematical Sciences had a scare involving student’s Social Security numbers that were posted online, but university officials were quick to respond after noticing the mistake last month.

“It was a simple mistake on the part of a teaching assistant,” said Melanie Magara, assistant vice president for public affairs.

In spring 2004, a mathematics department teaching assistant accidentally posted approximately 60 student’s names, homework grades and Social Security numbers on a personal Web site instead of e-mailing the information to themselves, Magara said.

This made the information available to anyone using the proper search engine.

“The thing about Web sites is that even if you delete one, it’s still out there,” said Walter Czerniak, associate vice president for information technology.

When university officials were notified of the situation, the search engine’s cache, which held the students’ information, was cleared.

“Letters are going out to the students whose Social Security numbers were posted as a precautionary measure,” Magara said.

Although the risk of identify theft looms no one has reported anything to university officials.

Students have been using Z-ID numbers since the early ‘90s, thus eliminating the need for Social Security numbers. The Z-ID numbers were created for access to computer systems and e-mail accounts.

“Identity theft came about because of the advent of the Internet,” Czerniak said. “We haven’t had any outright theft that I am aware of here on campus.”

It took less than two weeks to clear the information once it was discovered.

“When mistakes are made, the university acts quickly and lets everyone know what is going on,” Magara said. “There is no reason to panic.”

The Mathematical Sciences department declined to comment.