Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Simson Garfinkel

A View from Simson Garfinkel

From Stephen to Zithromax

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…

  • January 22, 2005

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 anybirthday.com,” 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.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.