College IT departments have struggled to keep hackers out of campus networks.

In October, higher education saw one of its largest data security breaches ever, as the Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and other personal information for about 760,000 current and former Ohio State University students were accessed by unauthorized network users. The Ohio State incident followed other security breaches at schools such as the University of Maine, Penn State University, and Florida International University in the past year—although it was a breach at the University of Hawaii (UH) that might be the most damaging of all.

That’s because a former UH student filed a class-action lawsuit against the school Nov. 18 in what is believed to be the first such case of its kind. If the lawsuit succeeds, or if UH settles, it could change how colleges and universities handle sensitive information going forward, some experts say.

Many colleges and universities already are paying more attention to how personal student information is stored and used, and the lawsuit now facing UH could cause more schools to examine their own practices, said Timothy Kaye, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law. Kaye added: “I think that a lot of these things should be rethought.”

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