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B-School Applicants Hack into Decision Site

RCs, think back to where you were exactly one year ago today, and ECs, if you can remember, think back two. If you were a second round applicant, you’d just finished the seemingly endless HBS application. You’d had your interview. There was nothing to do but wait.

Perhaps you spent a minute or two thinking about your chances…or wished that you could just know, one way or the other. Suppose you had the chance – would you have taken it?

Last week, following the instructions of an anonymous hacker, applicants to several top business schools, including HBS, were able to access internal files and reveal their admissions status before the decision date. HBS and many other schools require students to submit their applications and recommendations electronically using ApplyYourself, an online application and decision notification system.

At 12:15 am on March 2nd, a user known as ‘brookbond’ posted instructions on how to access the admissions information on Business Week Online’s technology forum. “I know everyone is getting more and more anxious to check [the] status of their apps to HBS,” he wrote. “So I looked around on their site and found a way.”

According to the message thread, several applicants managed to follow the hacker’s directions and ascertain their HBS admissions status. Second round applicants to HBS were not expected to receive notice until March 30th. In further postings, applicants reported that they had also accessed admissions decisions from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Len Metheny, CEO of ApplyYourself stated that “a fix went in a 9:45 am to prohibit access to that information.” Metheny also noted that the hacker’s instructions only enabled individuals to access their own admissions responses and not those of other applicants. ApplyYourself notified the half dozen schools affected that morning.

At the same time, Business Week took action to remove the hacker’s comments from their website. “As soon as we were informed of the situation, we deleted the post immediately,” said Director of Communications Kimberly Quinn. She also said that Business Week does not know the identity of ‘brookbond’.

In an interview with the Harvard Crimson last week, Executive Director of the MBA Program Steve Nelson did not confirm whether or not HBS knew the identities of applicants who had accessed the site illegitimately. However, Nelson did say, “This is a matter we’re taking very seriously.”

On March 2nd, the HBS Admissions Office sent the
following note to all applicants currently in the
admissions process:

We understand that some users of ApplyYourself, the online application and decision notification system we employ, have inappropriately attempted to access decision information about their own applications before the specified notification date. We take this abuse of the ApplyYourself system very seriously. Such behavior is unethical and inconsistent with the behaviour we expect from high-potential leaders we seek to admit to our program. We want to assure all applicants, however, that:

HBS decision information housed within ApplyYourself is neither complete nor final until our application notification dates

The application information that all applicants and recommenders submitted to us has been, and continues to be, secure

We appreciate your interest in Harvard Business School, and we want to underscore to all our applicants our commitment to make and communicate our admissions decisions in the most rigorous, fair, and secure fashion.

Sincerely,

Brit K. Dewey
Managing Director of MBA Admissions & Financial Aid
Harvard Business School
Soldiers Field Road
Dillon House
Boston, MA 02163

March 7, 2005
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