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Hacker gains access to non-sensitive data of MSUM students, faculty

MOORHEAD — A hacker was able to gain access to non-sensitive information concerning students and employees at Minnesota State University Moorhead in an attack possibly motivated by the Philando Castile case, in which a police officer was acquitted in Castile's shooting death.

MSUM notified students, faculty and staff of the breach in an email sent to the campus community on Tuesday, June 20. The breach happened early June 5, was discovered later that day and corrective actions were taken, said MSUM spokesman David Wahlberg.

The information accessed by the hacker included first and last names, preferred first and last names, as well as identification numbers of about 800 faculty and staff. That information, by law, is considered public information.

The same information for about 8,000 students also was accessed, but is considered private information under federal student privacy laws. Students, faculty and staff have been advised to change their passwords.

"No financial information, passwords, Social Security numbers or academic records of faculty, staff or students were stored on the server or were accessed," the campus email announcement said. The affected computer server has been taken offline, and the investigation into the breach continues, MSUM officials said.

The hacker claiming credit for the data breach goes by the name "Vigilance" and has claimed the attack was in response to the June 16 acquittal of a police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, on charges involving the shooting death of Castile, who was shot following a traffic stop in St. Anthony, a St. Paul suburb.

Tweeting as @theevigilance on Sunday, June 18, the hacker announced on the social media site that MSUM's computer network had been hacked.

"Always remain vigilant;)," Vigilant tweeted.

The day before, the hacker claimed to have hacked the state of Minnesota website, "An innocent man is dead, while a guilty man is free," Vigilance wrote in announcing the computer hack.

The Star Tribune has reported that the hack involved 23 state of Minnesota databases, including email addresses and passwords of state employees and private citizens.

At MSUM, no email addresses or passwords were accessed, Wahlberg said. Some of the information from the June 5 breach was posted on a website used by computer hackers. That was well before last Friday's verdict in the Yanez case, he added.

"We get thousands of hacking attempts on our websites," Wahlberg said. "It's continuous."

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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