Names and personal data of about a million people may have been compromised in a burglary involving Washington State University property. This month the university started alerting people who could be impacted.
A Washington State University researcher noticed the breach in April. An 85 pound safe holding a hard drive was missing from a WSU storage unit in Olympia.
That drive contains names of about a million people — and social security numbers and health history on some of them. It was all part of research the university had conducted for outside agencies, including school districts and government offices in Washington and Idaho.
Phil Weiler is WSU's Vice President of Communications.
Weiler: "This was not a quick smash and grab, this was somebody who had to make quite a bit of effort to steal the safe, and then if they're ever able to get inside it's going to take a lot of work for them to do that as well. At this point we have no reason to believe the data has been compromised, but we can't know that for sure."
Weiler says the university has sent letters to people who could be affected, and has set up a hotline where people can find out if their name was on the drive. Those impacted will be offered a year of free credit monitoring.
Weiler: "The challenge is an individual may not know that his or her data was on that hard drive because they're not aware that the school district might be doing these multi-year studies, so that's why it's important for us to be able to send letters to individuals."
Weiler says police have not identified a burglary suspect and have closed the case.
WSU's Economic Sciences Research Center has done statistical analysis since the 1990s. The research looked at trends like employment numbers or student success rates. Clients included the Census Bureau, Washington Legislature, Wenatchee school districts, University of Idaho, U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.