Notre Dame probes hack of computer system

University investigates break-in that may have left Social Security and credit card numbers exposed.

Two computer-forensic companies are helping the University of Notre Dame investigate an electronic break-in that may have exposed the personal and financial information of school donors.

The hackers may have made off with Social Security numbers, credit card information and check images, Hilary Crnkovich, Notre Dame's vice president of public affairs, told CNET She declined to disclose how many donors may be at risk.

"The (computer) server that was potentially affected was taken offline immediately," Crnkovich said. "The university continues to explore safeguards and precautions to ensure something like this doesn't happen in the future."

Computer theft of sensitive information continues to plague universities around the country. Last July, a hacker breached a server at the University of Connecticut that stored the personal information of 72,000 students, faculty and staff. In May, Stanford University said that its computer security was breached, putting the personal information of nearly 10,000 people at risk.

The student-operated newspaper at Notre Dame, The Observer, quoted donor Mike Coffee wondering why a server storing sensitive information was connected to the Web.

"It seems to be a very shoddy setup for protection of personal information," said Coffee, identified by The Observer as a 1991 Notre Dame alumnus and a longtime IT professional.

Crnkovich said that any donor whose checks were received by the school between Nov. 22, 2005, and Jan. 12, 2006, may be at risk. The school said it has notified all the donors at risk.