Do you want to be a privacy officer?

After serving as chief privacy officer for the past year and a half, I will be retiring from Wayne State University at the end of the winter semester. We have been given permission to search for a replacement, so I thought I’d use this platform to say a little about what a Privacy Officer does.

The simplest way to describe it is to link to my Educause blog on “A day in the life of a Chief Privacy Officer.”

However, if you’re interested in the tl;dr1 version, allow me to give you the “elevator speech.” Universities, like nearly all other organizations, hold information about any and all people they deal with. For universities this includes data about students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors. In 2017 it tends to be electronic records, although there are still thousands of pieces of paper with data on them as well.

Some of those records are sensitive. This means that the information could harm the person it refers to if it is released, or that its unauthorized release would subject the university to legal penalties because the data is protected by law. Or both. For example, social security numbers have become toxic (as we say in the privacy world) because those numbers can be used to commit identity theft. Student records such as grades are protected by the federal law known as FERPA and could cost the university embarrassment and money if they are released to unauthorized persons.

The privacy officer’s job is to help the university keep those records safe from inappropriate release by developing policies, by ensuring that employees are trained in how to apply those policies, and by reviewing how new methods of storing data (such as new versions of Banner or Academica) are configured to ensure the data therein is properly locked up.

This means serving on a lot of committees, meeting with administrators and researchers storing sensitive data, and speaking to groups such as the Academic Senate and the Administrative Council. It also means working closely with the Office of General Counsel, Internal Audit, the Associate Provost for Academic Personnel, and serving on the leadership team of C&IT.

If you think you might be interested in learning more about this position, you can find it listed at jobs.wayne.edu under position number 042601.


1 This popular internet acronym stands for ‘too long; didn’t read’. Usually an expression of disapproval.

How to protect yourself against the CIA (or anybody with their files)

By now most people have heard about the WikiLeaks revelation that the CIA has for years been developing programs to break into iPhones, Droids and Samsung TV’s. Assuming you don’t want them to do that, it turns out there are ways to keep them out of your house.

First, the background. WikiLeaks is the infamous source of supposedly secret data managed by a consortium and led by Julian Assange (who is currently living in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid extradition). On Tuesday, WikiLeaks  released thousands of pages of data supposedly lost by the CIA (and hence floating around the less public areas of the internet). These include programs for hacking Skype, your Wi-Fi router, Apple and Android smartphones, the apps Signal, Whatsapp, Telegram and more — several millions lines of code (computer programming). So far crucial bits of the code have been redacted by WikiLeaks to prevent it from being used by those who download the files.

But what if you think there’s no reason for the CIA to be snooping on your devices? Unfortunately, WikiLeaks released these files because they were floating around “in the wild” already, which means that not only the CIA but other folks have access to them. And, whatever you think of the CIA, we have no assurance that the outsiders who passed these files around have motives as “pure” as the CIA’s.

There’s been some discussion about whether these files are authentic, but betting in the security community is that they are. Bruce Schneier, who I consider to be a reliable judge of such things, seems to believe they are real and has discussed the topic on his blog twice now:

What you can do

Can you do anything to protect yourself against these tools? Probably, yes. The New York Times had an article on Thursday detailing simple steps you can take to make your devices somewhat more secure. The primary thing is to keep your operating system up to date. This is not news, of course — we in the C&IT Security/Privacy team have been saying this for years.

Make sure your iPhone is using iOS 10 if it can (any iPhone with a model number of 5 or above and any iPad younger than 2013 can run this OS).

For Android devices, (both phones and tablets) any version of the Android OS after version 4.0 should be safe, but older devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 won’t run it.

To protect your Wi-Fi router, you are advised to upgrade to the latest firmware, but this is rather trickier to do unless you are comfortable logging in to your router, but you can probably get your internet service provider’s help desk to talk you through the task.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem so easy to lock your Samsung SmartTV down. Of course, you can always unplug it when you’re not watching it1, although then you have to wait for it to boot up before you can head over to Amazon to watch Mozart in the Jungle or whatever your favorite online streamed program happens to be.


1 Just turning the TV off with your remote does not turn it off. It’s still in listening mode and a malicious hacker can also turn on the camera — yes SmartTV’s have cameras. So watch the hanky-panky in front of your TV — someone may be watching.

Yes, the IT Services Survey is real—and I’m glad you asked

Much of the campus received a message earlier this week to fill out an IT Services Survey. I have been contacted by many people asking whether the survey was legitimate, or whether it was a phishing attack.

Let me first say that I very much appreciate folks asking me whether this is real. It means our training is having an effect and people are learning to be skeptical of email messages that ask them to click on things. That is exactly the right attitude to have!

That said, let me point out a couple of telltale indicators that this message is real:

If you hover over the link that is provided, a tiny window will pop up (on Firefox it appears in the bottom left corner) showing the actual URL that you will go to if you click the link. Always hover over a link if you are suspicious. If the pop-up address and the one visible in the actual message match, then you are about to go to the website claimed. In this case, the website belongs to techqual, a company many of you already know about — it’s Wayne State’s source for running this survey. Here is a screenshot of what that looks like in my Wayne Connect mailbox — the arrow points to the popup URL.

 


If you are interested in learning more about how to recognize phishing emails, our Chief Information Security Officer, Kevin Hayes and I will be conducting anti-phishing training on Thursday, March 23, at 11 a.m. in the Purdy-Kresge Auditorium. Come and learn all the telltale signs of phishing emails and why we keep getting these attacks. And, of course, what you can do to protect yourself. No advance registration and no technological knowledge is required. Learn more at events.wayne.edu.