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University of Maryland cyber attack is warning for everyone about data vulnerability

The data breach last week at the University of Maryland is not only a wake-up call for the university — it’s also a cautionary tale for everyone.

The Feb. 18 incident, which is under investigation, compromised a database with 307,079 records containing the names, Social Security numbers, birthdates and university identification numbers for students, alumni and university personnel who have received university identification cards since 1998.

University President Wallace D. Loh pointed out that the school recently doubled its information technology security engineers, analysts and investment in security tools.

“Obviously, we need to do more and better, and we will,” he said in a statement.

And the university isn’t alone. Target department store suffered a cyber attack late last year in which information for up to 110 million customers was stolen. Last month, Neiman Marcus department store reported information theft involving about 1 million credit and debit cards, and soon after, Michaels arts and crafts store reported a possible breach.

The thefts at retailers differ in that the university breach did not include financial information — but it’s not to say university victims are in the clear. Their information could be used to open loans and credit lines.

The university is offering five years of credit monitoring but, clearly, criminals could hold on to the information for much longer.

“You might have a problem 10 years from now,” William Lucyshyn, director of research in UM’s Center of Public Policy and Private Enterprise, told The Gazette.

Experts say threats from hackers is an ongoing challenge, with constant changes needed to keep up with technology. While state, federal and corporate leaders work to find a solution — to include stricter reporting requirements when a breach occurs — community members must take steps to protect themselves as much as possible.

Regular review of credit reports and alerting authorities regarding any strange activity are good places to start.