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University of South Carolina has its biggest data breach yet

The University of South Carolina recently suffered a hacker attack that may have put up to 34,000 people's personal information at risk. The stolen information includes names, addresses and social security numbers, exposing victims to possible identify theft or other Internet crimes.

The school is no stranger to Internet crimes. An average of one successful attack per year has taken place at the school for the past six years but this is the largest. Victims include university students, staff and faculty. Hacking attacks aimed at the school have exposed the records of over 80,000 individuals since 2006.

On June 6, an automated alert informed the USC College of Education that its server had been exposed to hacker activity. It is unclear when the activity first started. The records affected go back to 2005.

Hacking is both a state and federal crime, and can result in serious charges. Federal investigations may involve the FBI or Secret Service, and authorities often seize a suspect's computer and review all of a suspect's Internet activity.

Like many hacker attacks however, this one originated outside of the United States and it is unclear what, if anything, authorities may do to apprehend or even investigate those responsible.

The university hired an out-of-state company that specializes in damage control for data theft situations in order to help those who are at risk to identify any suspicious financial activity. However, some criticize USC for acting too slowly to warn and assist students and employees, as USC took 11 weeks before issuing notifications. A USC official explained that the school wanted to make sure there was a real risk before causing people to panic.

The school experiences an average of 280 hacker attacks per day, and as many as 55,000 devices are connected to its network on a daily basis, according to officials. Most attacks are conducted by automated "bot" programs.

Source: The State, "Hacker breach might affect 34,000 at USC," Andrew Shain, August 22, 2012

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