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Campus Computing News

Internet Security at UNT - What You Can Do

By Dr. Maurice Leatherbury, Associate Vice President for Computing and Chief Technology Officer, CITC

National and local press outlets continue to report frequent Internet security breaches at academic institutions around the country, to the point that universities are being accused of being irresponsible about protecting their students and staff. I'm sure that you share my resolve to keep UNT's name out of the negative press that accompanies security breaches, so I want to let you know what UNT is doing and more importantly, what you can do to help us prevent security breaches at our university.

We have a number of defenses against security breaches here at UNT (this list isn't comprehensive but includes our major tools):

  • Virus protection is (or should be) installed on each computer on our network to prevent attackers from gaining access to those computers.
  • We've stopped using social security numbers as identification numbers for students, faculty, and staff, reducing the risk of exposure of that important ID to anyone who does manage to break into computers here.
  • We scan network-attached computers for weaknesses in their configurations, such as their not being patched with the latest software versions or their having known "malware" running.
  • We watch network traffic for suspicious activity such as social security numbers being sent in clear text off campus, or the complete directory of a computer being sent to someone off campus. When we do see something suspicious, we quickly work to investigate the computer sending that information.

These measures have been effective in the past year, but attackers are increasingly clever in devising means by which to bypass our defenses. Therefore, we are enlisting the aid of everyone at UNT to help us protect our community from security breaches. Here are three simple steps that you can take to help:

  1. Keep your computer physically secure by locking your door when you leave your office, by locking your laptop in the trunk of your car rather than leaving it on the seat when you're away from your car, and doing the other ordinary things that you do to protect your purse or your wallet. If you transfer sensitive information to a USB drive or a CD-ROM, etc., be extra careful about exposing the device to theft or loss.
     
  2. Protect your computer with a screen saver that requires you to enter your password after a period of inactivity (generally about 10 to 20 minutes.) This is important because if you leave your office open and then step away, anyone can come in and view your screen. If you inadvertently left a student record up on the screen, for example, the student's information could then be compromised.
     
  3. Don't store personally identifiable information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, or bank account numbers on your computer unless absolutely necessary! Many of us have old personnel appraisals with SSN's on them, or old class rosters with SSN's still lingering on our desktop computers. Move those files to better-protected network drives or better yet, delete the personally identifiable information from those files or delete the whole files themselves.

More security tips and information about information security can be found on UNT's Information Security web site at http://www.unt.edu/security/. Your network manager can also help you secure your computer if you have questions.

Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as saying that "eternal vigilance is the price of freedom." Today, he might well say that eternal vigilance is also the price of Internet security. Please continue to help UNT stay vigilant - and free from security breaches.

 


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