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College campuses vulnerable to cyber attacks

Posted March 14, 2015
Updated March 18, 2015

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— Colleges and universities are known for being open and robust places that allow students a sense of connection from every part of campus.

Whether it’s accessing a course webpage on a library computer, checking an email on a tablet in class, or using a phone to post on Twitter in the dining hall, college campus computer networks have made the college experience easier.

With this level of convenience, open networks make higher education institutions more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

But most students aren’t aware of the risks involved.

Aranya Chakraborrty, an assistant professor for the college of engineering at North Carolina State University, said the constant change in technology has made security efforts more of a challenge.

“The traditional way of looking at security is just the security of one computer,” Chakrabortty said. “What we do now is we always depend on networks of computers.”

Jen Havermann, a cyber security engineering manager, told the Washington Post that millennials have grown up in a world where everything is connected. As a result, many don’t take the proper steps to secure their information online, especially on open computer networks.

Connor Reed, a junior studying computer science at NCSU, frequently uses the campus’ network. While his major helped him understand cyber security, he thinks it’s something more of his peers should be interested in.

“I think everyone needs to be drawn to cyber security in some way, shape or form,” Reed said.

Reed said students often have a “it probably won’t happen to me” attitude about the threat of a cyber attack, but they should be concerned with what types of information are at risk of being exposed. Reed pointed out the trove of information in school records, including Social Security numbers, birth dates and student ID numbers.

Both Indiana University and the University of Maryland were subject to cyber attacks on their campuses in 2014, exposing nearly 146,000 and 300,000 records, respectively.

Chakraborrty said NCSU aims to keep some of its research confidential because hackers often want to make money from top-secret information.

“There’s a huge amount of research at N.C. State which has to do with defense-related organizations,” Chakraborrty said.

Although the university prides itself on offering secure IT services for the N.C. State community, both Reed and Chakrabortty still recommend being proactive when using an open network.

“Keep passwords strong,” Reed said. He suggests using about 16 characters of mixed numbers, letters and symbols.

{{a href="external_link-14514327"}}The Department of Homeland Security{{/a} offers more tips for using public computer networks:

  • Change passwords every three to four months
  • Keep anti-virus software and firewall software updated
  • Be aware of malware and spyware threats
  • Think before clicking. Links that seem too good to be true and can cause potential damage to a computer
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