By Reuters | August 21, 2005
LOS ANGELES -- Despite their image as leafy enclaves of higher learning shielded from the real world, universities across the United States are finding themselves on the front lines of the battle against identity theft.
With their huge databases, universities may rival financial institutions as attractive targets for the crime, estimated to affect over 9 million Americans a year at the cost of more than $50 billion, specialists said.
Nearly half of the publicized incidents of data breach since January occurred at universities, according to the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center.
The focus on campus computer security comes as pending legislation in Congress seeks to address on a national level the growing problem of identity theft, in which criminals steal personal information, so they can impersonate the victim to obtain credit and drain money from financial accounts.
In academia, major institutions such as the University of California system and smaller private schools from Tufts to Stanford are equally affected as hackers exploit computer vulnerabilities to access data and laptops get stolen.
The problem is hardly new, but available data are incomplete. California, for example, only recently started to require disclosure after a data breach. Some specialists say that universities only contribute to 20 percent of all breaches nationally.