Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

Harvard computer hacking incident raises questions about University’s own system

Harvard University’s graduate school application system was hacked in late February, revealing social security numbers and other personal data. The fallout has raised questions about Washington University’s own security system.

After the incident, Harvard offered identity theft recovery services at their expense for the approximately 6,600 people affected. Services include obtaining credit reports, credit monitoring services and fraud alerts.

“Hackers were successful in gaining access to the server by taking advantage of certain technical vulnerabilities,” Joe Wrinn, director of news and public affairs for Harvard said. “Guarding against hacking is a constant battle as hackers continue to challenge and occasionally breach security systems. We have removed the sensitive information from the server and identified and corrected the vulnerabilities.”

Andy Ortstadt, the associate vice chancellor for technology and information services at the University, said he believes the University’s information is not compromised in the same way as Harvard’s databases and, as a result, the incident has not changed data security at the University.

“We should all be concerned about security, but I don’t have any reason to think we’re vulnerable in the same way Harvard’s system was. I wouldn’t specifically look at it and say students should be concerned about that happening here,” Ortstadt said. “I can’t point to a specific change we made other than to maintain [security] as a priority.”

Ortstadt also noted that a more common risk to personal security is not large-scale system hacking, but personal carelessness.

“We’re always interested in making sure people understand the role they play in security by taking care of passwords and user IDs, and making the passwords hard to guess and not sharing IDs,” Ortstadt said. “That happens more frequently that I’d like it to, and it’s a common way [for] people to get access to information they shouldn’t have access to.”

According to Ortstadt, security will always be an important issue at a large institution.

“We’re always looking for ways we can upgrade. It’s an evolving thing,” said Ortstadt.

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