The University of Tennessee gets almost half a million attacks from hackers in its computer systems each day, according to Brice Bible, the Office of Information Technology’s chief information officer.
Bible said these hackers occasionally come from all over the world and try to get into computer systems at the university — and sometimes they are successful.
“Usually it is not damaging,” he said. “Once they’ve hacked in, we find it, stop it (and) close it off.”
Bible said security has gained a lot of attention over the last four or five years because computer systems at universities continue to become faster and have more computing capability.
“It’s become a big topic because the Internet has become very, very fast and universities have very, very fast connections to the Internet,” he said.
The UT campus used to have between 20 and 30 megabits of Internet connection, but Bible said students and faculty now have almost 10 gigabits, which is equivalent to 10,240 megabits, at their disposal.
The Educause Center for Applied Research reported colleges throughout the nation have increased their use of security software and methods to protect their confidential electronic data from intruders. UT has responded to increased threats in the same manner.
OIT has taken several security measures over the past few years to help ensure the protection of the networks and electronic data on campus. Bible said another reason for increased security measures is because technology experts from around the world have become more sophisticated in tracking the movements of hackers.
“The hackers are very sophisticated and their tools and abilities change every day, so we have to work very hard to stay on top of that,” he said. “(They) have figured out that they can use all this fast Internet and resources at locations like universities for bad things, so it’s become important for organizations to try to protect the information and the assets they have.”
One way OIT sought to protect information was by creating the Information Security Office. They staffed the office with a group of individuals who devote their time to helping users on campus keep their computers safe.
The Head of the Information Security Office, Robert Ridenour, said they were trying to be proactive and look for new ways to protect online information.
“It is impossible to predict the next big threat, so we focus a lot of our attention on protections,” Ridenour said.
Numerous protection devices, such as firewalls and patches, have been purchased for this reason. The office has also invested in intrusion prevention systems that can detect if something out of the ordinary is occurring and stop it immediately.
The purchase of protection software, however, is not new for the university.
“What is new for the university is an aggressive campaign to find the confidential information, even down to the department level, and help university personnel protect it,” Ridenour said.
He said OIT, along with information technology personnel from other colleges in Tennessee, is developing policies and procedures to help students, faculty and staff understand what they need to do to protect their information.
“We are trying to educate the users regarding safe practices,” he said.
The group is also working to isolate and eliminate the use of sensitive information.
While OIT has taken steps to make the networks more secure, it is also up to the students, faculty and staff at the university to protect their computers.
Ridenour and Bible said members of the university community should make sure their computers are patched, they are running their anti-virus software, their personal firewall is activated and they are not sharing their passwords.
Bible also encouraged suspicion of received e-mails.
“OIT personnel are always around to help, so if you have an e-mail that you believe to be threatening, you can send it to abuse@utk.edu and they will look into it,” he said. “Don’t just ignore it. If you think it’s really something abusive, then send it to us because it might protect somebody else.”
For more information on protecting computers, visit http://security.tennessee.edu.