E-mail exposes confidential file

By Jonathan Jacobson

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An e-mail sent out to all electrical engineering students last week revealed highly sensitive information about 5,247 undergraduates currently enrolled in the College of Engineering at the University.

The e-mail, sent out Aug. 24, included the ethnicity, grade point average, local address and other personal information about students in the college.

“It’s a really huge invasion of privacy,” said Paul Okarma, senior majoring in General Engineering.

Although some officials in the Engineering Dean’s Office were unaware of the mistake this weekend, Umberto Ravaioli, interim associate dean for academic programs, said he was aware of the issue but declined to comment for this article.

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“The matter is with appropriate authorities,” Ravaioli said.

The e-mail was sent out by Director of Special Programs Dr. Susan A. Linnemeyer and concerned a new class being offered in Lego robotics. An Excel spreadsheet saved as “Fall 2007 – Undergraduates” attached to the e-mail contained the information of the undergraduate engineers.

Linnemeyer also declined to comment at this time.

A notification sent out later that afternoon contained an apology and a plea to delete the previous e-mail.

“I asked that you delete the file IMMEDIATELY,” Linnemeyer wrote in the e-mail. “Since the information is sensitive you realize that the information should not be shared with others or kept on your computer.”

Linnemeyer, however, only sent out the notification to the electrical engineers who received the first e-mail, so many affected students are unaware that their information has been compromised. Some were unaware until The Daily Illini contacted them.

Thomas Neff, a sophomore majoring in Engineering Mechanics, said he was surprised to hear about the exposure of so much of his personal data.

“I am completely surprised that my info was just randomly put into an e-mail,” Neff said.

Other students did not understand how this accident could have occurred.

“What is the need of having this file without actually having protection on it?” said Xavier Zhu, senior majoring in Electrical Engineering. “If the file is able to be added to an e-mail, what’s to stop anybody from hacking the information?”

Zhu, who works for a bank, said that he is used to working with highly sensitive information.

“If I gave out somebody’s information, of course I would probably get fired,” he said.

Neff said he would expect the University to be more careful with students’ confidential information.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were ramifications because of this,” Neff said.