Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Indistinguishable from magic

The press relase you won’t see.

For Immediate Release
The Catawba County Public School System (NC)  announced today that
district web site administrators have remedied a configuration error which
accidentally resulted in the social security numbers and names of several
hundred students being made available via the popular Google search engine.
Officials were alerted to the misconfiguration when the confidential data
was found by a district parent seeking information on a beauty pageant
Catawba County Schools chief technology officer Judith Ray explained that,
although the district's site password-protects areas containing non-public
information, the area containing the student information had inadvertently
been excluded.  "Our web masters immediately recognized their error", Ray
added, "and made the change needed to protect this information".  All
affected individuals have been notified, and the district has modified
both its web site configuration, and its document management processes to
provide an additional layer of checking against a repetition of the error.
Moreover, added Ray, the district has begun a process of removing social
security numbers as identifiers from files it maintains.  "This information
was gathered in another era.  Today, it's simply inappropriate.  We're
updating our databases, just as we've updated our procedures", she explained.
The district's quick response was matched by Google.  A day after being
informed of the exposure, the information was no longer available via
the popular search engine.

What you will [link to no longer works] see instead:

Q. How did this happen?

A. School system officials say Google broke through the password and
username protected server the information was stored in and took a photo
of the page, which it posted to the Internet.

(Hat tip to lyger)

One comment on "Indistinguishable from magic"

  • dbs says:

    It continues though…
    Q. What is cached?
    A. Cache is a snapshot of a page of information available on the Internet. Google’s Web site said it takes photographs of pages as it crawls the Web.
    And if that were enough, the Catawba County Schools Chief Technology Officer is quoted:

    “It is a great lesson in the power of Google as a search engine,??? she said. “I think it’s a real cautionary tale of how deeply Google is able to mine. Since it’s the No. 1 search engine, it’s the one out there the most. It is a very sophisticated search engine that can access more than 100,000 servers.

    Lady, yer off by at least two orders of magnitude there. Yay for public education.

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