Virginia Commonwealth University will hire an outside cybersecurity consultant to examine its information technology system after a computer server containing personal data on 176,567 people was hacked last month. The university has "very good forensic evidence" that the information was not accessed or targeted for identity theft, said Mark D. Willis, VCU's chief information officer. "But you can never be 100 percent certain." VCU is notifying people whose information was on the server. They include current and former VCU and VCU Health System faculty, staff, students and affiliates, such as contractors and visiting professors. The data included names or electronic identification, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, dates of birth and home addresses. Willis said the server did not include information on Health System patients. The FBI and VCU police are investigating the incident. VCU is advising those affected by its breach how to obtain free credit reports and put alerts on their accounts, but it is not offering to provide protection services because it deems the risk low. "We're pretty certain that theft of data was not the purpose for this," Willis said of the intrusion, which occurred in two stages. The forensic examination showed the intruder was on the server containing personal data for 16 minutes on one day, he said. The hacking originated outside the university but from an IP address within the United States, he said. The first breach was discovered Oct. 24 when routine monitoring found suspicious files on one server, which contained no personal data and was taken offline. Five days later, VCU found two unauthorized programs on the second server. An analysis showed the intruder had compromised the second server through the first, on which programs were placed to establish a platform for other attacks, Willis said. The outside review will be the first complete "holistic look" at VCU's system, he said. Cost and time estimates were not available, but he said the scrutiny could slow access to university websites at times. VCU's last breach was in 2009 when a computer containing 17,214 Social Security numbers was stolen. Identity protection services were offered in that case because although an arrest was made, the computer was not recovered, Willis said.
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