Although TCU has not had its network of 7,000 computers hacked by an outside source, protective measures are being taken to keep the system from falling subject to any form of computer compromise, a TCU network security engineer said.The threat of computer hacking at universities in the Dallas/Fort Worth area became evident when nearly 38,000 student profiles at the University of North Texas were accessed in August 2005.
Students’ names, Social Security numbers, student IDs and account numbers were all made open to public access, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that works to protect computer users from most forms of personal information theft.
Technical security measures are being tested at TCU in order to prevent such an event from taking place, said William Senter, technical services manager.
“There is never going to be a situation when all things are fully secure,” Senter said. “Needs change, and things are kept open to preserve respect of students.”
Chris Cooksie, a junior criminal justice major, said that there is concern within the student body about technical security.
“For every one person we have that is protecting the system, we have five people trying to break in,” Cooksie said.
One student confident in his network security is freshman premajor Luke Brandenburg.
“A scan came up on my computer when I moved in, but nothing has happened so far, and I’m not worried,” Brandenburg said.
Associate provost for Technology Resources Dave Edmondson, said security has become more important with the advent of wireless Internet access on campuses.
“Wireless does have another dimension we need to be concerned about,” Edmondson said. “We have increased security to make our wireless seem close to a (secure) wired network.”
Senter said the use of a firewall in the TCU network helps create a barrier between the incoming user and the university server. In addition to a firewall, an encryption device is used to continually block hackers from accessing personal files of students and faculty.
Encryption is a form of code-blocking used to make the information scrambled and inaccessible to a third party unless they have the proper key for cracking the codes.
“The 128-bit (encryption) is harder to break for the casual hacker,” Senter said. “Wireless is a more open means of hacker entry.”.
The protection of campus Internet is an ongoing process, said Jim Mayne, a TCU network security engineer.
Mayne said there are both electronic and physical safeguards in the network rooms. Access to the room is only given to certain faculty and staff.
In order for student privacy to be kept in tact, campus technical services is refraining from making the entire campus fully accessible for wireless Internet. Students in residence halls can only gain wireless access in the lobbies rather than the students’ rooms.
Additionally, security patches and anti-virus software are available to students for free, Mayne said.
The security patches have brought forth positive feedback from students such as Stella South, a senior political science major.
“There seem to have been fewer viruses and computer problems since the free patches were given to students about two or three years ago,” South said.
Even with such programs ready for student use, there is always risk for a compromise in an unprotected computer. “Without the most updated patches and security software, an unprotected computer may take only 30 minutes to compromise,” Mayne said.