Federal Federal File

Identity Crisis

By Alyson Klein — August 29, 2006 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Department of Education came under criticism last week from student borrowers and Senate Democrats for an online-security breach that occurred over three days at the beginning of the week.

Because of a bug in the system, introduced during a scheduled software upgrade, some student-loan borrowers who logged on to parts of the department’s Web site saw other borrowers’ personal information, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth.

Nancy A. Newark, 38, was updating her personal information on the site Aug. 21 when she was inexplicably routed to another page containing someone else’s private data, she said in an interview.

Ms. Newark, a Westwood, Mass., lawyer, said that happened three more times before she called the Education Department to report the problem. She said the department took down at least parts of its Web site on the morning of Aug. 22.

The breach affected people who have borrowed student loans directly from the federal government, rather than through a private lender. About 6.4 million people have outstanding loans in the program, according to an Education Department official quoted in TheBoston Globe, which first disclosed the problem in a story on Aug. 23.

Hudson La Force, a senior counsel to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, told the Globe that four people had called to complain about the problem since Aug. 20. He said the department would not put the information back online until officials were assured it was secure, although he was unsure how long that would take.

Mr. La Force also told the Globe he was not sure how many borrowers were affected by the glitch, but said “we think the effect is pretty limited.”

A department spokeswoman did not return calls from Education Week before deadline.

Such assurances are little comfort to Ms. Newark.

“Now that I’m hearing a lot of ‘we thinks’ and ‘it appears,’ I’m very concerned,” she said in the interview. “I know that I have to remain vigilant.”

The incident prompted harsh words from Senate Democrats. In an Aug. 23 statement, the Senate Democratic Communications Center cited recent electronic-security troubles in the Education Department and several other federal agencies.

“The Bush record on securing government and personal data is one of blundering mismanagement,” the Democrats’ statement said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal School Boards, 'Domestic Terrorism,' and Free Speech: Inside the Debate
From critical race theory to COVID policy, the heat on schools has raised issues involving free speech and the safety of public officials.
13 min read
Brenda Stephens, a school board member with Orange County Public Schools in Hillsborough, N.C. has purchased a weapon and taken a concealed carry class over concerns for her personal safety.
Brenda Stephens, a school board member in Hillsborough, N.C., says board members face threats and bullying, an atmosphere far different from what she's encountered in years of board service.
Kate Medley for Education Week
Federal Senate Confirms Catherine Lhamon to Civil Rights Post; Kamala Harris Casts Decisive Vote
Joe Biden's controversial pick to lead the Education Department's office for civil rights held that job in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Catherine Lhamon, nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Catherine Lhamon, then-nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in July.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images
Federal White House Outlines COVID-19 Vaccination Plans for Kids 5-11
The Biden administration will rely on schools, pharmacies, and pediatricians to help deliver the COVID-19 shots to younger children.
3 min read
Ticket number 937 sits on a COVID-19 vaccination at the drive-thru vaccination site in the Coweta County Fairgrounds on Jan. 14, 2021, in Newnan, Ga.
A ticket number sits on a COVID-19 vaccination at the drive-thru vaccination site in the Coweta County Fairgrounds in Newnan, Ga.
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Federal California, Florida, and Other States Waiting on Green Light for Their COVID Relief Plans
The list of states with Ed. Dept. approval for their American Rescue Plan blueprints is growing steadily, but two big states aren't on it.
4 min read
Image shows an illustration of money providing relief against coronavirus.
DigitalVision Vectors/iStock/Getty