Tuesday, December 12, 2006

UCLA Computer Files Hacked

UCLA has had the files of approximately 800,000 students and alumni hacked in what may be the largest breach of computer security at a U.S. university.

The problem is not new -- last year USC was hacked -- but what I find novel is the excuse published in the L.A. Times for why it happened.

The L.A. Times uncritically reported that "several" identity theft experts told the paper Monday that "Partly because of their tradition of openness, universities are proving to be a favorite — and often vulnerable — target."

The paper then quotes Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center, as saying: "Universities tend to have a lot of information floating around in a lot of different places. They are places we send our children to share ideas, and it's hard to mix the open sharing of ideas with the need to tighten down on security."

Excuse me, but what a bunch of baloney. What does the "open sharing of ideas" in the classroom have to do with keeping things like Social Security numbers and tax information in applicants' files secure and confidential? One has nothing to do with the other. Why would computer security in administrative areas like admissions or financial aid be "hard to mix" with academic freedom? And yet the L.A. Times found connecting academic "tradition(s) of openness" with the lack of computer security worthy of Page 1, and didn't pursue further explaining exactly why computer security is "hard to mix" with "the open sharing of ideas." (We won't even pursue the angle as to whether universities truly foster "the open sharing of ideas" in all contexts, grin.)

You would think that a university would be among the first to create a hacker-free computer security system, given the talented people on campus...why hasn't that happened yet? It may be that the security problem wasn't taken seriously, but I hardly think the systems were vulnerable because the university viewed applicants' information as a part of their culture of a "tradition of openness" and "open sharing of ideas."


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