Integrity Week to address identity theft

By Mike Devine

It has become increasingly common for confidential information to fall into the wrong hands, especially among college students, according to a recent report.

The report, conducted by CompUSA TechInsights, found that many are not following basic procedures when it comes to preventing identity theft.

The survey found that 70 percent of students who participated “sometimes” or “never” use locks on their laptops and other electronic devices when they are unattended. Of those polled, 63 percent said they do not always use a secure wireless network when connecting to the Internet.

Andy Solterbeck, vice president and general manager of the Commercial Enterprise Business Unit at SafeNet, a software protection and cryptographic software developing company, said, in an e-mail to the News, the primary cause of student vulnerability to identity theft is failure to practice basic computer security habits.

“Without taking the proper security measures, a person’s sensitive information such as bank account, credit card, driver’s license and Social Security numbers are left open and vulnerable to theft,” Solterbeck said.

Solterbeck said there are extra steps universities can take to help ensure security when dealing with computers, including using encryption to protect personal data in the case of a laptop theft or security breach, and a two-factor authentication, “which is a combination of something physical – a token, the equivalent of a modern-day key for your computer – combined with the standard login procedures, your password.”

Director of Information Security and Identity Services Glenn Hill said Northeastern has “many policy layers in place to help protect students from falling victim to identity theft.”

At the forefront of the university’s data protection policy is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal act that prohibits a university from releasing a student’s personal information without consent.

In addition to FERPA, Northeastern uses the Appropriate Use Policy (AUP) and the myNEU Privacy Policy to inform students of the steps the university takes to provide the highest level of security possible, Hill said.

Although these documents are long, Hill stressed the importance of each student taking the time to read them in order to understand what practices the university has in place to help protect privacy.

Other aspects of Northeastern’s policy include locks that require card access, as well as secure storage compartments where confidential files are kept. In terms of technological controls, the university uses user IDs, passwords and firewalls to help prevent information from being disclosed electronically, Hill said.

Hill said in his six years at Northeastern, “there have been no incidents of identity theft involving the university.” He did, however, state there have been instances of students coming forward with personal ID theft situations not involving the university.

Associate Director of Public Safety Jim Ferrier agreed the university has a strong record of protecting students.

“We’re not aware of any cases of identity theft involving Northeastern students, other than the misuse of lost or stolen credit cards to make purchases before the owner reported the card missing,” Ferrier said in an e-mail.

Although the university has taken steps to ensure students are not exploited by identity theft, Hill said it is important for students to take appropriate measures to remain as aware of these dangers as possible.

“I advise everyone to be mindful of all the information you share, be it through e-mail or on profile sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and to be mindful of the policies of companies you do business with,” Hill said.

Next week, Northeastern will be holding its annual Integrity Week, from Oct. 2 to 6. Sponsored by the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, the week-long series of seminars and events is designed to highlight the importance of ethics and integrity. One of the events, ‘Identity Theft and Social Networks,’ will aim to educate students on the importance of being aware of the dangers of identity theft and uniformed social networks. The seminar will be held on Oct. 4 at 3 p.m. in 10 Behrakis.

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