Another data breach, this time in New York

The New York State Education Department issued the following press release on January 18:

State Education Department Announces Breach of Data Held by Vendor Questar

Represents a Fraction of One Percent Computer-Based Test Takers in 2017

Matter Referred to the NYS Attorney General’s Office for Investigation

NYSED Holds Questar Accountable

The New York State Education Department’s grades 3–8 assessment vendor, Questar Assessment, Inc, experienced a data breach affecting a small number of students registered for computer-based testing (CBT) in spring 2017, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced today. Questar reported that its preliminary analysis shows 52 students in 5 schools are affected. This represents a fraction of one percent of the 28,000 operational CBT test takers and 60,000 CBT field test takers in spring 2017. The Department referred the matter to the New York State Attorney General’s office for investigation.

“While we are thankful this incident is isolated to only a small portion of students, any breach of data is unacceptable and we are holding Questar accountable,” Commissioner Elia said. “We have referred this matter to the Attorney General’s office for investigation. In addition, we have required that Questar take immediate corrective action to ensure this does not happen again.”

The Department is requiring that Questar take immediate action to ensure no further data breaches occur including to:

  • Force password resets on all user accounts and closing accounts of all former employees;
  • Hire an independent third party to perform a security audit of Questar’s systems and security protocols, policies and procedures. Such security audit must be completed, and the results of such audit provided to SED, no later than February 20, 2018; and
  • Submit a written corrective action plan to the Department no later than January 26, 2018, detailing the actions Questar has taken and will take to ensure that this does not occur again in the future.

Questar informed the Department that an unauthorized user, whom the company suspects, is a former employee, accessed an internal Questar user account to view student data from December 30, 2017 to January 2, 2018. Questar reported that the data accessed includes personally identifiable information. Examples of data that was viewed in some cases included student names, New York State Student Identification numbers, school, grade level and teacher names.

The Department does not share student addresses and social security numbers with Questar and, therefore, this information was not accessed by the unauthorized user. Questar is continuing to investigate how the unauthorized user was able to access the account and advised the Department that it suspects that the unauthorized user is a former employee.

Questar first notified the Department about the breach on the afternoon of January 16, 2018 but provided no details about the scope of the breach. The Department sent Questar a letter later that day demanding further information and details surrounding the security incident. In addition, Commissioner Elia called Questar President Steve Lazer that evening to stress the unacceptable nature of the breach and that swift action must be taken to identify the full scope of the breach and ensure it does not happen again. On January 17, 2018, Questar provided some additional information to the Department but did not include information on the students and schools affected.

Earlier this afternoon, Questar provided the Department with the names of the affected students and schools. Today, the Department is in the process of notifying the schools, teachers and parents/guardians of the affected students. The schools affected by the breach are:

School District # of Students Affected
John F. Kennedy School Great Neck UFSD 21
Menands School Menands UFSD 10
School 2 Oceanside UFSD 10
PS 15 Jackie Robinson NYC Geog District 29 Queens 10
St. Amelia School Roman Catholic Buffalo Diocese 1

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