North Carolina State University investigating claimed hack (UPDATED)
On January 17, DataBreaches.net became aware of data that had been uploaded to a paste site on January 15. It claimed to be data from the cwise subdomain of North Carolina State University’s web site. From that site:
The NOAA Cooperative Program for Climate & Weather Impacts on Society and the Environment (CWISE) is a collaboration between NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, and NC State University and its partners. CWISE brings together research, education and information services relating to the Earth’s climate and weather systems and their impacts.
I attempted to notify NCSU of the claimed hack, writing, in part:
The paste can be seen at [redacted]. There are 173 user entries from a table identified as “SCOusers” containing
| contacts_id | login | group | password | added_by | last_addr | last_host
| added_date | last_realm | last_agent | expire_date | last_access | last_updated | temp_password |
If you confirm the data are real/yours, follow [the site]’s directions
to get the paste removed from public view.
I did not test the email address data to confirm its authenticity but
did notice that at least some passwords were MD5 and could be easily
cracked. The first one I cracked resolved to “Wolfpack.”
Please confirm receipt of this notification and let me know what you
find and do.
I received an automated acknowledgement shortly thereafter, but never received any actual substantive response.
On January 26, finding that the paste was still online, I contacted NCSU again:
I never got an actual response to this alert, and I see that the paste
with purported personal information is still online.
I will be reporting on this incident on databreaches.net, including
NCSU’s failure to respond to the attempts to alert it.
I’ll give you 24 hours to respond with a statement confirming or
denying the breach and a statement as to what you’re doing if the
breach is genuine.
That produced some results:
We were informed of the posting several days prior to your notification, and
the site was summarily taken offline pending investigation.
The pastebin has now been reported as abusive.
Thank you for the notification,
But if they knew several days prior to my first notification, why was the paste still up? That site responds within 24 hours to remove pastes like that. Had NCSU not notified the paste site until January 26? If not, why not?
I contacted NCSU again, still seeking confirmation of the authenticity of the data:
So it was genuine data? Are those whose data was exposed being individually notified of the breach?
And what is NCSU doing to prevent a recurrence?
This time, a different person answered me:
I apologize for not being able to go into much detail, but the incident is still under active investigation. Following NC State processes, we are validating the depth of the compromise and the validity of the data.
If NCSU has known about this since January 15, the paste should have been gone already and they should already be able to confirm whether those data were real.
Their incident response has been somewhat puzzling.
Updated Feb. 4, 2016: I received a final update today from NCSU with a terse message:
Incident Resolved. Site removed. Was hosting stale data.