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BISMARCK, N.D. _ A North Dakota University System computer server that stores personal data of nearly 300,000 past and present students was hacked,  university system officials announced Wednesday.

Interim University Chancellor Larry Skogen said such personal information as names and Social Security numbers had been stored on the server.

“It is very unfortunate that this has happened,” Skogen said. “We don’t know if anything was compromised.”

The hack was discovered by information technology staff on Feb. 7. Deputy North Dakota University System chief information officer Darin King said  server was immediately locked down and an internal investigation and forensic analysis of the server were launched.

The server information was provided to a national forensics organization to confirm the staff work.

Personal information on approximately 290,000 past and current students as well as 780 faculty and staff members is believed to have been at risk by the hack.

Skogen said during a teleconference with reporters that law enforcement officials were contacted but he didn’t name those agencies.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Skogen said. “It’s taken us this long … to come to the point where we had enough information to hold this teleconference.”

Skogen said the source of the hack may have come from outside the United States and the purpose may have been to target the server as a “launching pad” to attack other computers.

The university system security protocols will be reviewed, King said.

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The server information was provided to a national forensics organization to confirm the staff work.

Protecting information from hackers is a daily struggle, King said.

“This is a constant, ongoing thing in the IT world,” he said.

A website with information on the incident has already been posted at the North Dakota University System site, www.ndus.nodak.edu. Updates will be posted as they become available.

Officials plan to contract with a call center to answer students’ questions. The cost of setting up the call center and dealing with the hack wasn’t known as of Wednesday.

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Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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