How Secure Are You? University CIOs Are Leveraging New People, Policies, and Professional Tools to Ensure Network Security

Article excerpt

Douglas Boudreau is the type of student universities fear most. Boudreau is serving five years probation for identity fraud, intercepting wire communications, larceny, and unauthorized access to a computer. These are crimes he committed while a student at Boston College, where in 2002 he installed so-called "key-logging" software on more than 100 campus systems. The software recorded students' keystrokes, allowing Boudreau to gather names and passwords to networked systems. Boudreau pleaded guilty to multiple charges in mid-2003, and was sentenced in April of that year to five years' probation. Though the culprit wasn't behind bars, college officials breathed a qualified sigh of relief--after all, they knew other BC hackers could be in the making.

But it was "good old detective work and audit trails" that allowed the college to catch Boudreau, says David Escalante, director of Computer Policy and Security at BC. "Boudreau went from computer hacking to stealing by altering student ID cards," says the security chief. "His misuse of these cards was detected, investigated, and determined to be fraudulent. The misuse of the computer systems," he adds, "became apparent in the course of the investigation of the misuse of the cards."

Although Boston College nabbed their hacker, other universities and businesses aren't ordinarily as fortunate. On a typical day, the famed Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) at Carnegie Mellon University (PA) documents 400 Internet-related security incidents around the globe

(see "Security Alert," next page). The incidents range from minor attacks that probe individual Web sites, to major strikes that rattle thousands of systems.

January's MyDoom virus, for instance, was a single incident that clogged the Internet with some 100 million infected emails in its first 36 hours, prompting the FBI to launch an investigation, according to the news services. But even smaller outbreaks can wreak havoc. The Blaster virus epidemic of mid2003, for instance, was a single incident that infected more than 500,000 computers, including hundreds of systems at Temple University (PA). "While Temple's network did not go down, network degradation ... reached critical levels, making total loss of the network a definite possibility," wrote Temple Chief Information Officer Ariel Silverstone, in a memo to staff, faculty, and students during the outbreak.

Still--although there's no silver bullet for IT security--there are measures that can be taken to protect any institution, say the pros. Savvy universities, like many institutions in the corporate sector, are taking these three steps to protect their networks:

* Recruiting and training dedicated IT security professionals

* Devising, communicating, enforcing, and updating security policies

* Implementing/maintaining the latest security technologies, e.g., personal firewalls and (previously abandoned) smart cards

Who's in Charge?

Enter the CSO. Within most universities, CIOs, chief technology officers (CTOs), of chief financial officers (CFOs) typically oversee IT security. But that's changing as more and more universities hire the dedicated chief security officer (CSO).

Even three years ago, however, CSOs were a rare breed on university campuses. Then anywhere, anytime computing came on the scene, and triggered heightened security needs. Wireless Internet access, online registration, distance learning, Web-based tuition payment, and other applications have forced many universities to buttress their CIOs with fulltime CSOs who live and breathe security.

Boston College, for instance, hired Escalante shortly after the Boudreau incident. "Assigning security to the CIO, CFO, registrar, of someone else is perfectly legitimate," says Escalante. "But over time, I suspect these already busy people won't be able to deal with all the nitty-gritty details of security and will feel more comfortable delegating this responsibility. …