updated 9/3/2004 9:15:27 AM ET 2004-09-03T13:15:27

California university officials have warned nearly 600,000 students and faculty that they might be exposed to identity theft following incidents where computer hard drives loaded with their private information were lost or hacked into.

Since January, at least 580,000 people who had personal information about them stored in university computers received warnings they might be at risk.

The latest instance of missing equipment occurred in June at California State University, San Marcos.

An auditor lost a small external hard drive for a laptop computer.  Personal data, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and other identifiers for 23,500 students, faculty and staff in the California State University system were contained on the missing hard drive.

At the University of California, San Diego, and San Diego State University, hackers broke into computers and obtained access to files of personal data for more than 500,000 current or former students, applicants, staff, faculty and alumni.

Officials from the Cal State system and UC San Diego said they have no evidence any personal data were stolen.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, a stolen laptop in June led officials to notify as many as 145,000 blood donors that their data might be in the open.

A California law requiring people be notified when they might be exposed to identity theft took effect in July 2003.  Officials say that might explain the rash of notices.

"There's no reason to assume that suddenly in July 2003 all these computer security breaches started occurring," said Joanne McNabb of the Office of Privacy Protection in the California Department of Consumer Affairs. "It's just that we know about them now, when we didn't hear before."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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