Unexpected Technical Problems

Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center, Vermont, mistakenly posted every student’s Social Security number on the Internet for almost two years, college officials said.

The social security numbers were posted along with students’ names, addresses, SAT scores and ethnicities. The aforementioned information was removed last week, and there is no indication that identity thieves downloaded the information, officials said.

The 2003 information was publicly posted in January 2004 when the college’s coordinator of tutoring services tried to direct it to a secure computer drive but inadvertently sent it to the public website instead, college President Allan Rodgers said. A former student discovered the error last week when he plugged his own name into Google’s search engine.

“We have taken swift steps to secure the information and to remove the data from the Vermont Tech server and from other sources,” Rodgers said on October 12th in an email to students and alumni. President Rodgers assured everyone that all employees, including the one who made the posting error, would get more training on computer security.

Such technological mishaps suggest that heightened technical proficiency creates heightened potential for misuse of information. Computer hacking and the distribution of information (made possible by the instantaneous and hassle-free nature of information exchange via computers) has become a huge problem.

The state of Massachusetts recently changed its laws regarding drivers’ licenses: residents of Massachusetts are no longer allowed to use their social security number as their Massachusetts Drivers License Number. Citizens who previously chose to use their SSN for this purpose must purchase updated licenses with a newly issued Drivers License Number. A statement from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles explained that the procedure is to protect the identity and security of citizens.

Such precautionary procedures suggests that UVM should change its current policy of using student social security numbers to gain access to a variety of on-campus tools. Students use SSNs to check books out at the library, to sign onto the registrar’s homepage, to use the gym or check out a movie when they’ve misplaced their student IDs.

This is a problem because of the high probability of security breaches implicit with using such a significant piece of information for seemingly inconsequential tasks.