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Hackers target university users' passwords

November 6, 1998
Web posted at: 12:15 PM EDT

by Kathleen Ohlson

(IDG) -- Students and staffers at Stanford University were the victims of a computer system break-in, as hackers penetrated several of the school's systems, according to a statement from Stanford officials.

The university said it believes the hackers entered its systems from Sweden and Canada.

The systems became vulnerable when security patches for two Leland System workstations were improperly installed, according to the university. The Leland System, a collection of centrally administered academic systems, is used primarily by students for course work and nonsponsored research, said Stephen Hansen, director of Stanford's computer security.

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Hackers entered via the Internet and installed a sniffer, a program that steals data, the university said. The hackers were able to invade the first system when they discovered the security hole and then ventured into other university systems.

The security breach, which started Oct. 11, wasn't discovered until Oct. 26, when the university found that 5,000 user passwords had been compromised, according to a Stanford statement. Once the breach was detected, the university contacted the password holders, who had until yesterday to change their passwords.

Most of the users affected complied by the deadline, Hansen said.

The school's probe into the system break-in found that the intruders modified some system binaries and log files but didn't damage user data or files, he said. Hansen added that the situation is under control, but the university will continue to monitor systems for any sign of the hackers' return.

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