A security breach at Northwest Florida State College has compromised the personal and financial information for 280,000 people across the state. The hackers were able to gain access to the Social Security numbers, birthdates, and bank account information for 76,500 current and former students, as well as 3,200 employees, and 200,000 applicants to the statewide Bright Futures scholarship program in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 academic years.
The Bright Futures program provides Florida’s top high school students with merit-based scholarships and grants to attend public colleges and universities throughout the state. When determining students’ eligibility for the program, financial aid departments across the state routinely download a file containing the names, dates of birth, Social Security number, ethnicities, and genders of everyone who applies in an academic year.
The breach came to light after college employees began reporting unauthorized withdrawals from their bank accounts. The most common sources of the unauthorized withdrawals were automatic debits from online pay day lenders Discount Advance Loans and PayDayMax Inc., who advance funds and then use automatic debits from bank accounts for repayment, and store credit cards.
Reports of fraud by employees prompted the school to undertake an internal investigation from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5. The investigation determined that the breach occurred between May 21 and Sept. 24, and that an unknown number of hackers utilized a coordinated attack to gain access to the college’s main server, which contained the school’s personnel files for past and present applicants, students, and employees.
The size of the breach, which included all of the school’s employees who participated in direct deposit since 2002, prompted Northwest Florida State College to contact the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. A website has been established to allow potential victims to contact both the college and the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint with the authorities.
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