Application Security // Database Security
8/5/2013
03:43 PM
Connect Directly
Facebook
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

University E-Mail Security Practices Criticized

One example: 25% of colleges surveyed by Halock Security Labs request applicants send personal data, including W2s, over unencrypted email to admissions and financial aid offices.

10 Top Password Managers
10 Top Password Managers
(click image for slideshow)
Are colleges and universities, those bastions of open discussion and debate, paradoxically putting sensitive information at risk because their email systems transport messages unencrypted over the public Internet?

Yes, concludes a survey released last week by cybersecurity firm Halock Security Labs.

After surveying 162 institutions, Halock found that half of them allow the transmission of sensitive information over unencrypted email. Moreover, a quarter of the institutions actually request that applicants send personal information, including W2s, over unencrypted email to admissions and financial aid offices.

"I was surprised at the 25%," Terry Kurzynski, a partner at Schaumburg, Ill.-based Halock, told InformationWeek/Education in a phone interview. The problem was across the board, at schools big and small, Kurzynski added.

[ Run a website? Make sure you know about this security risk: HTTPS Hackable In 30 Seconds: DHS Alert. ]

Although Halock elected not to publish the names of the institutions that encouraged the use of email for sensitive documents, it did note the states in which the schools -- a mixture of Big 10, Big 8, Ivy League, community colleges and technical institutes -- are based.

Beyond parent and student financial records and social security numbers sent during the financial-aid process, proprietary university research could be compromised via insecure email connections.

Data theft is a growing problem for academia and business alike. A recent article in The New York Times reports that research universities experience "millions of hacking attempts weekly."

In its release about the survey, Halock listed a number of characteristics that make academic institutions especially susceptible to email incursions and computer hacking in general. Among them: transient and inexperienced student workers; limited security and compliance budgets; complicated and bureaucratic procurement processes; and student hackers with lots of time.

But the leading vulnerability, Kurzynski said, was immature risk management. "Unfortunately, our findings and other research shows it often takes an incident for them to have a wakeup call," he said.

Halock recommends a number of inexpensive solutions to the email-security problem, starting with a school setting up a secure Web portal for the delivery of private documents. In this configuration, email becomes a notification mechanism, not a delivery channel. The company also recommends that institutions clearly state their contact email addresses should not be used to send private information.

Since publication of the survey, some security experts have said the Halock findings are overblown. For example, according to PrivacyRights.org, computer breaches of all types at academic institutions have been on the decline, from 13% in 2005 to around 8% so far this year. Other critics note there are larger issues around data management, once sensitive documents reach a school.

"I totally agree with that," Kurzynski said. "But it begs the question, if you have such insecure methods externally, how secure are you internally?"

Halock has embarked on two new surveys of unencrypted email that are focused on financial institutions and cloud service providers. Those surveys will be published this quarter.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
Partner Perspectives
What's This?
In a digital world inundated with advanced security threats, Intel Security seeks to transform how we live and work to keep our information secure. Through hardware and software development, Intel Security delivers robust solutions that integrate security into every layer of every digital device. In combining the security expertise of McAfee with the innovation, performance, and trust of Intel, this vision becomes a reality.

As we rely on technology to enhance our everyday and business life, we must too consider the security of the intellectual property and confidential data that is housed on these devices. As we increase the number of devices we use, we increase the number of gateways and opportunity for security threats. Intel Security takes the “security connected” approach to ensure that every device is secure, and that all security solutions are seamlessly integrated.
Featured Writers
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading's October Tech Digest
Fast data analysis can stymie attacks and strengthen enterprise security. Does your team have the data smarts?
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-7298
Published: 2014-10-24
adsetgroups in Centrify Server Suite 2008 through 2014.1 and Centrify DirectControl 3.x through 4.2.0 on Linux and UNIX allows local users to read arbitrary files with root privileges by leveraging improperly protected setuid functionality.

CVE-2014-8346
Published: 2014-10-24
The Remote Controls feature on Samsung mobile devices does not validate the source of lock-code data received over a network, which makes it easier for remote attackers to cause a denial of service (screen locking with an arbitrary code) by triggering unexpected Find My Mobile network traffic.

CVE-2014-0619
Published: 2014-10-23
Untrusted search path vulnerability in Hamster Free ZIP Archiver 2.0.1.7 allows local users to execute arbitrary code and conduct DLL hijacking attacks via a Trojan horse dwmapi.dll that is located in the current working directory.

CVE-2014-2230
Published: 2014-10-23
Open redirect vulnerability in the header function in adclick.php in OpenX 2.8.10 and earlier allows remote attackers to redirect users to arbitrary web sites and conduct phishing attacks via a URL in the (1) dest parameter to adclick.php or (2) _maxdest parameter to ck.php.

CVE-2014-7281
Published: 2014-10-23
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in Shenzhen Tenda Technology Tenda A32 Router with firmware 5.07.53_CN allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of administrators for requests that reboot the device via a request to goform/SysToolReboot.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Follow Dark Reading editors into the field as they talk with noted experts from the security world.