Lapses in data security at major colleges and universities over the past four years have exposed tens of millions of personal records of students, alumni, faculty and staff and put them at risk of identity fraud theft.

Zalud’s Blog found solid advice in Identity Theft 911's September newsletter, "Academia at Risk," which examines a growing problem that makes American universities easy targets for hackers and identity thieves. Since 2005, data breaches at major institutions such as the Univ. of Miami, UCLA, Univ. of Fla., Ohio Univ., USC, Berkley-Calif., Boston College and others have affected more than 6.6 million personal records.

The newsletter looks at universities' information architecture and how their culture of both openness and turf protection can leave important personal information exposed. It also lays out solutions for institutions as well as personal identity protection advice and tips for students.

The University of Notre Dame offers a prime example for responding to a large data breach. Dave Seidl, ND's director of information security, explained, "We knew that we had a lot of networks, but we didn't know everything that was out there. The breach showed everyone just how little security there really was."

The series is available on the Identity Theft 911 Knowledge Center Web site at . It includes the following tips for university and college students: Your Social Security number is like a key for identity thieves who can use it to open up all kinds of accounts in your name, so do not give it out to anyone; avoid Facebook quizzes that open the door on your personal info to the quiz developers; use strong passwords comprised of numbers, letters and symbols and change them often; treat your laptop as if you know it's going to be stolen. Use the password-prompt on start-up and shut it down for the night;Use firewalls, anti-virus software and regularly update them; obtain your annual free credit reports from each of the credit bureaus and review them frequently.