There are lessons to be learned from the Maricopa County Community Colleges breach. Learn them, dammit.

I generally do not write “lessons  learned from [X breach] ” posts, because I seriously doubt people have really learned anything. Instead of headlines like “Lessons learned from…,” what we  should be writing is, “If you don’t learn from this, then you’re an idiot and should never be allowed near consumers’ personal information.” 

In any event, this time I’ve decided to post a “lessons to be learned”  post in the hopes that some wise souls will actually take this to heart and help another breached entity avoid the unnecessary consumer frustration and outrage I see evolving in comments submitted by readers.  So here we go…

The Maricopa County Community Colleges breach represents a #FAIL of epic proportions on so many levels. For those not familiar with background to the breach: the college’s version of the breach states that in January 2011, the FBI contacted MCCC’s IT department and alerted them that a database with PII was up for sale on the Internet. MCCC conducted an internal investigation and then arranged for an investigation by an outside firm (Stach & Lui). Sounds good, right? But an IT employee allegedly obstructed the outside firm’s investigation by withholding critical information. As a result, MCCC says, they did not discover certain security vulnerabilities and MCCCD leadership never even saw Stach & Lui’s report. Why they didn’t ask for it is another question, but they claim that the  employee’s bad behavior led to lack of knowledge that was directly responsible for for the 2013 incident in which 14 databases wound up for sale on the Internet, affecting over 2,000,000.  So… the first lesson that you’d better learn if you haven’t learned already:

pointing_fingerTrust, but verify. You can’t have just one person who knows what’s going on because heaven forbid, they may not be honest or may be looking to hide their errors. 


Note that there is an alternate version to MCCCD’s, posted by an anonymous commenter on this site who claims that the IT department begged MCCCD to be allowed to totally wipe the servers but their request was denied.  Someday, hopefully, we’ll get to see some actual reports by independent investigators.

But there are other important lessons to be learned  in terms of breach response. Under one of the posts about the breach on this site, it’s getting ugly in the Comments section. There are a few recurring themes, and those who counsel clients about breach response and breach notification letters should take note of what’s going on:

Do they know how you got their data? People are confused and suspicious as to why they are receiving letters from MCCC when they never attended classes there.  There’s actually an explanation that makes sense and an MCCC spokesperson explained it to me on the telephone yesterday,  but MCCC did not include it in their notification letter to those affected.  Nowhere in their notification letter to those affected do they  explain that many people who took extension courses online for re-certification or certification in their fields of study or work were actually providing their information to MCCC even if MCCC’s name did not appear as the provider of the course.  Or that the individual may have been involved in a vendor relationship long ago. Had they included a “How we might have obtained your information” sentence or two in their notification letter, they could have prevented a lot of confusion, distrust, and anger.

pointing_fingerWhen you (or your client) writes a notification letter, add this to your checklist:  “Have you adequately explained the different routes by which recipients’ information might have wound up in your database?”


Who’s this credit monitoring service and why should I trust them with my personal info? Even though the notification letter specifically instructs those affected that MCCC has made arrangements to provide them with free credit monitoring services through and to go to that site, when people got to that site, they were unnerved by the appearance of the site and the lack of information on it. If you’ve already been burned and worried that your data has been stolen, you  are understandably less likely to provide your SSN and details to any company, much less one whose site looks like it was a hastily thrown up site that could be a phishing site.  And yes, I realize I’m being critical of’s web site. I’ve already spoken with them today to tell them what’s going on and what I think they need to do to develop that site more and reassure consumers that they are dealing with a legitimate service.

pointing_fingerIf you offer services to affected consumers at your expense as part of breach response or mitigation, consider how that firm will appear to those you are directing to their site. And if the site doesn’t inspire confidence and you don’t help the victims understand why they should trust the firm, that reflects back on you. And:


pointing_fingerIf you offer services to affected customers at your expense, have you ensured that the firm’s web site can handle a crush of people trying to sign up when the notification letters arrive? 


In this case,’s site has been down or responding slowly, probably because of the number of people trying to sign up. It’s on MCCC and to ensure that consumers, already frustrated and angry, do not have a “ disaster” experience. MCCCD should be screaming at by now to get the site functioning properly.

I urged both MCCC and to provide me with statements that I could post to this site to address consumer concerns and frustration. I have not yet received them. In the interim, commenters are getting angrier and talk about lawsuits has started. Which brings me to the last lesson to be learned:

If you care about your reputation and consumer satisfaction, respond promptly.

pointing_fingerTake advantage of opportunities sites such as this one provide and respond in the Comments section or send a statement to the site and ask them if they can post it or include it.  Do not just fail to respond to angry or frustrated comments, as they will only increase if you don’t jump in to calm things down. 


Now… will anyone actually learn those lessons?  I guess I’ll have to wait to see. And yes, I know I omitted the obvious infosec ones like not storing a gadzillion years of Social Security Numbers. There really is such a thing as obvious, and if colleges don’t know that already, they’ll probably never learn it.

About the author: Dissent

8 comments to “There are lessons to be learned from the Maricopa County Community Colleges breach. Learn them, dammit.”

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  1. Amos - December 18, 2013

    So here may be part of the ID Integrity problem:



    They have different DNS records for the domain and for the www subdomain. Not using the “www.” prefix results in a spinning icon and the page never loads.

    Even better, it’s run by Kroll and part of their company just got hacked

    Even more better, they have SSLv2 enabled: and do not have TLS 1.1 or 1.2 enabled.

    Of course, with Server 2008 R2, disabling SSLv2 and enabling TLS 1.1 and 1.2 does take a bit more work than clicking Next -> Next -> Install -> Finish

    And for the finale, their banner shows they are running Tomcat 6.0.24, which has a number of vulnerabilities: Tomcat v6.0.24 was released on January 21, 2010 per that link.

    Here’s how it’s spelled: “Due Diligence”, in case they were wondering.

    • Dissent - December 18, 2013

      Wow. Thank you for digging into it and sharing. I hope Kroll/IDintegrity sees your comment.

  2. Matthew - December 19, 2013

    Got the letter but haven’t tried going to; decided to do a little homework first. At this point I’m inclined to take no specific action, mostly because of the line in the letter that says, “…at no cost to you for one year…” After one year what happens? Do I have to remember to cancel my account 12 months from now or risk getting charged an auto-renewal fee? I also just heard on the news that people who shopped at Target over the last three weeks were exposed to hackers via payment by card. Good times. Thanks, hackers, for putting a damper on the holidays.

    • D - December 20, 2013

      When I called they said it just stops after a year and no charge unless you want to continue it yourself and call them, but he didn’t know how much it would be as that is a different department.

  3. Dakota - December 19, 2013

    I think I would add to their learning:

    Learn to write a professional letter. Include your address and phone number. Use an office printer not your home printer on its last legs of ink. Introduce your victims to the monitoring agency. Until I read all the comments about these letters, I thought I was just being a little paranoid. Guess not. Not sure how they would have made it look more fake… maybe a return address of somewhere in Africa. I’ll not go into the website.

  4. Max - December 24, 2013

    I’d bet that Kroll got the contract from MCCC because they were low bid……

  5. Jim - December 24, 2013

    My entire 14 years working within and for the MCCCD District Office IT department continuously reminded me of the mediocrity that satisfied the masses. Incompetent individuals were routinely recruited, contracted, and promoted to positions, reaching the level of Vice Chancellor, for which they were highly unqualified. For that reason, I decided that I could no longer morally nor ethically continue to work for MCCCD. I inventoried and discussed my concerns directly with Chancellor Glasper on multiple occasions before I left. Unfortunately, and quite possibly, it will take severe class action judgements to right this wayward ship.

    I never had direct knowledge of any breach, but I did raise several concerns with leadership teams regarding the gross neglect with regards to protecting sensitive personal information in many data sources. Some of my suggestions resulted in initiatives to offload payment processing and student refunds to PCI-compliant third-party solutions, but against my requests, there was never an initiative to cleanse the data that was created and replicated in many systems and data stores throughout MCCCD.

    Possibly the most egregious neglect was the District Office IT Departments complete disregard for an individual within the department who raised issues and became a certified PCI DSS security expert on her own time at her own expense because the District Office IT Department wouldn’t sponsor her efforts. That individual also eventually left MCCCD after each of her requests to address the issues was repeatedly dismissed by executive management within the department.

  6. Steve - January 1, 2014

    I felt I had to take some kind of action so after reading all the blogs and calling IDintegrity directly, I took the plunge and signed up for the one year service. Check out the disclaimer you get during the process “YOU EXPRESSLY UNDERSTAND AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF THE SERVICES IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK”. I guess this still leaves me without the warm and fuzzy I may have been searching for. Fingers (and toes) crossed!

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