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Data Security and Identity Theft at UNT
By Dr. Maurice Leatherbury, Associate Vice President for Computing and Chief Technology Officer, CITC
You've seen press reports of many incidents of potential identity theft across the country in recent months, including some security breaches at UNT that left information potentially exposed. Basically, the problem is that personal identification data such as social security numbers and associated persons' names have been obtained by persons who are not authorized to see that data. The loss of such data from a university subjects the institution to bad press as well as a significant expense because the university must notify everyone whose identity was potentially compromised. But more importantly, it means that persons whose personal information has been stolen or compromised face potential credit card theft or other similar problems.
Sometimes, the vulnerability that causes the loss is ill-protected or poorly written systems that hackers can exploit to obtain the personal information. But generally the root cause of the problem is simple carelessness of the person charged with protecting the data. An example of such carelessness is not using a "strong" password on a desktop computer that's connected to the network: hackers quickly and easily gain access to that computer and can download any file on that computer. For that reason, we instituted strong password requirements on campus late last year. However, just using a strong password is not sufficient to protect your computer in all cases since hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated at breaking into systems.
Another common identity theft vulnerability is the loss or theft of a physical device holding sensitive information, such as the loss of a laptop computer holding a file of social security numbers and personal names. There are several examples of laptop thefts that have caused universities to have to notify thousands of students about possible compromises of their identity.
We here at UNT want to do all that we reasonably can to prevent identity theft at our university, and with that goal in mind, here are some things that you can do yourself:
Additional information and help on computer security issues can be
found in the Information Security Handbook at
http://www.unt.edu/security/handbook/index.htm . The
Information Resources Security Policy (http://www.unt.edu/policy/UNT_Policy/volume2/3_6.html)
also gives guidance and rules on protecting data on University machines.