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Data Security: Equifax, Cambridge Analytica, Higher Ed

August 12, 2020

Data security has topped the higher education priority list for in recent years. For the third year in a row, information security was the top IT issue of the year according to Educause.

You know the terms “data security” and “antivirus.” Keeping personal data and work-related information safe goes without saying. What are you doing to make sure your data is safe?

Big Data

Big data, defined as “extremely large data sets that can be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations,” is a major factor in modern business. It helps decision-makers stay informed on key trends and differentiate their organization from competitors.

“More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race.” Bernard Marr, Forbes Contributor

It’s no secret that universities own terabytes upon terabytes of sensitive data. Universities have the responsibility to protect identities. They possess personally identifiable information (PII) — things like social security numbers, names, and mailing addresses. Along with PIIs, universities also need to protect research findings and financial information. A breach of this kind of data is unacceptable.

You might be thinking, “Boy, IT has their work cut out for them!” But data security isn’t just an IT issue anymore. Everyone working for a college or university is responsible for the data they access. You may not have access to social security numbers, but you might have access to more data than you are aware of.


Each employee has a responsibility to safeguard data, but who is actually going to come after YOU and the data you access? While it is highly unlikely there is a skilled hacker out there with crosshairs on your research proposal or lesson plans, there are plenty of other common threats to your data.

Malware. Viruses, ransomware, and worms are all different types of malware. In 2008, the security firm Symantec claimed that their software had detected over 1 million different types of viruses. That was 10 years ago! Today, data is threatened by much more. In 2017, the WannaCry virus infected over 200,000 computers around the world and made its way into organizations like FedEx, Renault, and the National Health Service in the U.K.

Risky Devices. Smartphones are common place. We use them for communication, navigation, entertainment and work. While phones are useful tools, they don’t have the same security capabilities as computers with large processors. Accessing sensitive data on a smartphone could put it at risk.

Natural Disaster. In a recent webinar with Kuali, Bill Ravlin discussed how his Wooster campus office, with him inside of it, was decimated by a tornado. It took months for the university to recover.

Accidents. User error is the second most common cause for data loss. Accidental deletions, including email deletions, and over-writing are common culprits. Accidents happen, and that’s okay. Do what you can so that you don’t have to make additional IT requests.

Proactive Security Measures

First and foremost, know what data security precautions your institution requires. If you have tenure and are comfortable in your career, review the IT data security policy. Maybe you won’t be so comfortable afterward.

Update. Keep your software up to date. Updates can include patches to code that better protect users and their data. Without the upgrades, you may leave your information vulnerable.

Choose Wisely. You’ve heard the advice already. “Don’t use the same password for everything!” Now there are no excuses — there are tools you can use to keep your passwords safe. Apps like LastPass, Keepass, and Dashlane keep your passwords safe. Some of them are free of charge.

Be Secure. When you visit a website, check the first 5 letters of the URL. Does it read http or https? The “s” stands for secure. Don’t interact with a website that isn’t secure, especially if it asks for sensitive information.

Do not leave it to IT to save the day. Take initiative and back up your work. Ask questions to determine which anti-virus software performs best, or which hard drives are least likely to fail. Do some leg work to keep your data safe.

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