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A fascinating story in The Harvard Crimson details a rather shocking security lapse in which “the confidential drug purchase histories of many Harvard students and employees have been available for months to any internet user, as have the e-mail addresses of high-profile undergraduates whose contact information the University legally must conceal,” according to the magazine.

The problem seems to be that two Harvard websites designed for student use did not properly authenticate the students who were supposed to be using them.

One website, now disabled, is the iCommons Poll Tool. According to the Crimson, that website “required nothing more than a free, anonymous Hotmail account and five minutes to look up the eight-digit ID of any student, faculty or staff member.” With that number, anybody could then go to the website operated by Harvard’s insurer’s website, PharmaCare, type in the Harvard University ID and the student’s date of birth (obtainable from the student directory and from “sites such as,” and get the full history of all drugs that the student had ordered

There is a related issue involving the listing of student directory information if when students request that this information not be made available, a violation of another federal law.

Hats off to the Crimson! They also broke a story similar to this roughly 10 years ago, when it was revealed that Usenet browsing history was being left on public-access terminals.

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