Society as a whole has largely learned to embrace the interconnectivity and the black-hole-like source of information that the World Wide Web provides. But for all its conveniences and new opportunities that technology opens, so, too, do windows of previously unknown danger become unlocked for the first time.
A Blessing and a Curse
February 12, 2008 by Danny Lawhon
Last May, a hacker broke into a University of Missouri System database, stealing information that included the names and Social Security numbers of more than 22,000 current and former system employees. The theft, the Missourian reported, could cause long-term problems for employees who didn’t take proper action to keep their personal information secure. The following month, internal audits showed that UM System administrators and security staff were aware of security vulnerabilities in parts of their databases.
In an era of such rapidly expanding capabilities for technological data storage, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with hackers and other virus-mongers wishing to do harm. And I think many people understand that fact.
What’s more alarming, however, is how often data-security issues arise because of mistakes of college officials or the theft of physical property, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported today. According to the article, 112 colleges reported computer-security incidents in 2007, nearly doubling the number of schools with incidents in 2006. Of the 139 incidents reported, the article says, just 30 were due to hackers. A staggering 49 colleges reported that their incidents resulted from “unauthorized disclosure,” or unintentional releases of personally sensitive information. Thirty-six schools reported the physical theft of computers or data storage devices.
When you have to fight yourself as well as the enemy, then almost any battle becomes an uphill struggle. I’ll stress here that the UM incident did involve a hacker and does not contain any known self-disclosure issues as mentioned in the Chronicle’s article. Nevertheless, the growing threats resulting from the access to electronic data storage seemed to be outpacing the ability to defend the data.
I guess what’s amazed me most isn’t the existence of the problem itself — it’s the lack of understanding and reacting to the danger. Identity theft has been a hot-button topic for several years now, and still I’ve talked to people who aren’t properly educated about the threat of electronically-based identity theft. The “ignorance is bliss” strategy won’t apply. The numbers for universities alone have resulted in over 1 million Social Security numbers being made available, according the article. So the old adage of “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” is unfortunately archaic.
Visit the Missouri Attorney General’s Office Web site to learn about keeping your personal information secure.