College of the Holy Cross employees fall for phishing attempt, 493 notified of compromised personal information

No matter how many times entities warn employees about phishing attempts, it seems that some inevitably fall for them anyway.

College of the Holy Cross recently notified the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office that 7 of their employees had fallen for phishing attempts that originated in Nigeria and Ghana.

As a result of the phishing, seven employees’ e-mail accounts were totally erased, to the tune of 30,000 e-mails.  The college was able to restore the accounts, but of  greater concern, one of those accounts belonged to a Human Resources administrator, whose e-mails contained personal information on hundreds of people.

According to the college, no e-mails are supposed to contain personal information unless it is encrypted, but this employee had reportedly violated those protocols.

As a result of the compromise, the college had to notify four New Hampshire residents that personal information such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, dates of birth, or financial information were in the accessed accounts.  But others were also notified.  The college reports that a total of 493 individuals from 20 other jurisdictions whose personal information may have been compromised were also being notified.

Looking at the resources the college had to bring in to assist them in investigating and handling this breach, this appears to be a fairly costly breach.

One of the resources the college brought in was ID Experts.  Their letter to those affected on behalf of the college does not reveal that the data were accessed because employees fell for a phishing attempt. While the letter does not downplay the risk of misuse of the data, if you knew that your data were accessed by someone who had actively phished for it, would you be more concerned and more likely to act on the warning letter?

Understanding how a data theft or acquisition occurred provides important context for evaluating risk, and I reiterate that any federal breach notification law should require the entity to tell the circumstances of the data theft or loss.


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