September 15, 2005

Calif. laptop with personal data of 98,000 recovered

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A stolen laptop computer holding
personal information of more than 98,000 California university
students and applicants has been recovered, but it uncertain
whether the information had been tapped, the University of
California, Berkeley said on Thursday.

The laptop, which stored names and Social Security numbers,
disappeared in March from a restricted area of the university's
graduate division offices, forcing the university to alert more
than 98,000 students and applicants of the theft.

The university said in a statement that a San Francisco man
has been arrested and charged by the Alameda County district
attorney with possession of stolen property after investigators
discovered the laptop had been bought over the Internet by a
man in South Carolina.

"UC police note that while a lab analysis could not
determine whether the sensitive campus data was ever accessed,
nothing in their investigation points to identity theft nor
individuals involved in identity theft. It appears ... that the
intent was simply to steal and sell a laptop computer," the
university said in its statement.

Forensic tests showed files on the laptop had been erased
and written over with a new operating system installation,
leaving only residual data and making it virtually impossible
to determine whether password-protected files had been
breached, the university said.

"The San Francisco man who was arrested told police it is
his practice to install a new operating system or erase and
wipe clean old data from a computer before posting it for sale
online," the university said.