Massive PennCard Data Breach Reveals Details of Penn Hookup Culture
Photo by Julia Sosa / The Daily Pennsylvanian
April 1, 2021 at 5:49 pm
On Wednesday afternoon, Penn’s Office of Information Security held a virtual press conference to provide details about the recent hack of the university’s central computer servers.
Asked about the extent of the hack, university spokesperson Ann Parker said, “We were fortunate that the recent attack on our systems did not compromise students’ sensitive health or academic data. However, the hackers were able to gain access to a data warehouse containing Penncard data dating back to January 01, 2017.
Pressed for details, Parker continued, “The breached warehouse included millions of Penncard transaction records from across the university.”
Parker explained that a “transaction record” includes the student’s name, class year, assigned college house, Penncard number, portal entered, date of transaction, and precise time in a 24 hour/minute/second format. A sample recorded obtained by the DP read: “Peter Holcomb; 2024; Hill, 27584639; Upper Quad Gate Portal #2; 3/25/2021; 18:27:31.”
After Penn missed the deadline to pay the $17.40 ransom the hackers were demanding for safe return of the stolen data, the hackers posted the full stolen database on the dark web. Students were quick to make sense of the massive data set, employing their statistical knowledge.
Engineering junior Richard Haskell, a CIS major and TA for CIS 450: Databases and Information Systems, has been working day and night to reveal the data’s hidden insights. “I’ve constructed a machine-learning algorithm that sifts through the data to identify pattern connections between Penncard holders. For example, my algorithm highlighted that Zac Carter (W’24) and Hannah Moore (C’24) have swiped into the upper quad gate within 10 seconds of one another between the hours of 22:00:00 and midnight for three consecutive Saturday nights.”
Haskell realized that this was unlikely to be a random coincidence because Moore is a resident of Hill College House. Further exploration revealed that on each of the three nights in question, the next time Moore’s card was used was to swipe into Hill between the hours of 07:00:00 and 09:00:00 Sunday morning.
Puzzled by what this pattern may imply, Haskell turned to his friend Wharton junior David Messer, a statistics concentrator and self-proclaimed frat star. “Based on my model, there’s a 98.7% chance that Zac and Hannah are hooking up,” Messer explained. “I mean, come on, the only thing that would make it 100% certain is security camera footage from Spruce Street that shows them holding hands as they make their way from frat row back to the Quad.
The DP reached out to Penn public safety officer and head of the campus surveillance center — known to university insiders as “The Eagle’s Nest” — Steven Collins, who confirmed that Moore and Carter have indeed been spotted holding hands on the nights in question. “Our cameras usually pick them up around Allegro’s at 40th street, already strolling hand in hand. I lost a bet to one of the other officers last Saturday about whether or not they would stop in Wawa for water.”
Penn Labs has partnered with Haskell and Messer to develop Locust Lust, a user-friendly website that enables students to search the name of any Penncard holder and view their probable hook-ups.
The DP reached out to Penn Labs’ chair of external affairs and Engineering sophomore Michelle Wan for comment on the new website. Wan said “This is the most heavily trafficked website we’ve ever built. Locust Lust has been handling hundreds of queries per hour since we launched. Even PennCourseReview doesn’t have these kinds of numbers.”
Student reaction to the Locust Lust platform has been mixed. Some students feel as though the platform is an egregious violation of their privacy, but others have welcomed the platform as a useful tool in determining if their friends are lying to them.
College sophomore Sabrina Banfield said that her friend College sophomore Madison Hayden has been denying that she’s been hooking up with Bradly from Phi Sigma Upsilon for weeks, but Locust Lust confirmed the group chat’s suspicions: there’s a 97.4% chance Brad and Maddie are a thing. “Even though she could do so much better, I don’t even care that she’s hooking up with Brad,” Banfield said. “I just wish she’d stop lying to our group chat. We all know it’s true, we just want her to admit it. Like, sisters before misters, am I right?”
Under the condition of anonymity, a university official explained that the University’s own exploration of the data has revealed few surprises. “Our internal analysis basically confirmed what we all suspected anyway: our undergrads are a bunch of nerds who lack the social skills necessary to engage in any sort of romantic encounter.”