On Friday, the University of Nebraska said it was investigating a cyber attack that resulted in a security breach of an information system that houses sensitive data on students and alumni dating back to 1985.
The breach hit the Nebraska Student Information System (NeSIS), the electronic database that contains personal records for students, alumni and applicants of the university’s four campuses.
The university said that the breach was discovered last Wednesday night by a member of the university’s technical staff, and according to some sources, could affect up to 650,000 individuals.
The NeSIS database includes Social Security numbers, addresses, grades, transcripts, housing and financial aid information for current and former University of Nebraska students as well as applicants who may or may not have attended the university.
“The university is alerting individuals with bank accounts associated with the Student Information System – via email and personal letter – and advising them to monitor their accounts closely and report any suspicious activity to their financial institutions,” the university said in a statement.
Police are currently pursuing leads in the case, the university said, but as of Friday, no further information was available. The university said that it has hired a leading firm specializing in data breaches to assist in a forensics investigation.
While officials know what data is stored in the affected system, many questions remain as to the details of the attack and what may have been taken from the system. But according to local news outlet KETV Omaha, progress has been made in an investigation. University officials told KETV that 20 to 30 people have been investigating the breach around the clock, “many of them working through the holiday weekend on campus and some working elsewhere," and that "it could be determined as early as Tuesday who is responsible for a system breach."
“Together with law enforcement and an external security services firm, the university is working to determine the extent of the breach and to what degree, if any, individuals’ personal information may have been compromised,” a statement noted, adding that “data for the Nebraska State College System, which is also housed in NeSIS, does not appear at this time to have been breached but that investigation is continuing.”
According to the university’s information security officer, Joshua Mauk, so far there is no clear evidence that any information was downloaded, and that the notification to individuals is being done out of an abundance of caution.
"It was a complicated and targeted attack on our system," Mauk told KETV. "It wasn't that he discovered one hole and poked around."
“The University of Nebraska takes the protection of student and alumni information very seriously. Right now we’re focused on determining the exact nature of the breach and communicating with those who may have been affected,” Mauk said. “We are working with law enforcement and forensics experts to thoroughly reconstruct this incident so that we can identify limitations in our system and put new safeguards in place for the future.”