Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Ringing the Alarm on Campus Computer Security. (Indianapolis)

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Ringing the Alarm on Campus Computer Security. (Indianapolis)

Article excerpt


Even before the tragic Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, campus computer networks operated by the nation's colleges and universities was at serious risk for unlawful intrusions, hacker break-ins, and for being used as a staging ground from which cyberattackers could assault other computer systems.

Information technology experts now are taking advantage of the nation's heightened awareness of public safety to urge college and university officials to take steps to secure their campus computer networks.

"Security vulnerability can allow bad actors to hijack our technology and use it as a weapon against us," said Michael A. Vatis, director of the Institute for Security Technology Studies (ISTS) at Dartmouth College, during a news briefing at the Educause annual conference held in Indianapolis last month.

Vatis says the terrorist attacks illustrate that computer systems, like airline jets, can become destructive weapons used to damage the infrastructure. Computer networks represent a frontline target for attack by a variety of "bad actors." These bad actors could be anyone -- disgruntled workers with access to a major computer network, a group of political activists that wants to disrupt networks as protest, organized crime gang members, or even foreign militaries and foreign terrorists, according to Vatis.

"It is my belief that we're likely to see an escalation of these attacks during the war on terrorism," Vatis predicts.

The message from experts such as Vatis urging campuses to upgrade their computer network security came loud and clear during the recent Educause conference. The plea for better security, while not entirely new to the higher education community, is expected to be taken with far more seriously by IT officials than in the past.

"Security has moved from a backroom issue to one that involves the CIO and the university president," says Dr. Michael A. McRobbie, chief information officer at Indiana University.

In the aftermath of a major cyberattack on e-commerce Web sites in February 2000, federal officials placed higher education officials on alert because hackers had used college and university networks as bases from which to shut down prominent Web sites such as Yahoo and eBay. …

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