Lack of student awareness could lead to security breach


As a society, we are constantly surrounded by technology; from cell phones to laptops to tablets. Each of these gadgets and the personal information on them, are vulnerable to hacking.

According to South Dakota State University Assistant Vice President of Technology Ryan Knutson, hacking has been around almost since the dawn of the Internet. Knutson said that hacking started around the mid-80s in the early days of the Internet where hackers would primarily target the phone systems.

Knutson said hackers did it mainly for fun back then, but soon many hackers started hacking for profit.

“Hacker culture really started around tinkering, much like you’d see a nine year old kid tear something apart and then it quickly became profit motivated for some folks,” Knutson said.

He said now it is transitioning almost to cyber warfare between countries.

Hackers can try to gain access to individuals’ personal info in a variety of ways. Hacking methods include everything from calling a person up on the phone and trying to get them to connect their computer to the hacker’s computers which links to unreputable sites with viruses embed in advertisements.

According to SDSU Communications Network Analyst Thomas Gehrke, one of the most popular methods is through email, using a technique called phishing.

Phishing is where hackers will first collect several email addresses, often found on databases on the Internet, and send out fake emails to these addresses masquerading themselves as a reputable company or organization such as Paypal or Ebay. These emails will often request personal info or have a link to a fake website where they have the email receiver enter their information.

Hackers can also break into an individual’s system by using botnets. A botnet is a program that can take over and control a computer.

Hackers will get people to click on fake downloads, such as a fake adobe flash update, and unknowingly the user will have downloaded a virus on his or her computer.

Using a botnet, a hacker can gain control of the victim’s machine. What the hacker is able to do from there depends on the sophistication of the hacker and his or her botnet.

According to Gehrke, SDSU has a “layered” approach to online security. There are filters to protect the Jacks email, firewall and intrusion detection systems. SDSU also separates the student network from other networks and limitations on bandwidth usage. The Jacks email filter blocks an average of 50,000-70,000 emails per day, according to Gehrke.

Despite these security measures, Knutson believes that students should be aware that security cannot block everything.

“Primarily the responsibility is on the individual student,” Knutson said. Knutson recommends that students have anti-virus software downloaded on their computer and they should always be aware of what they are clicking on or installing.

He also said that students should use passwords that are complex, but they shouldn’t be so complex that you can’t remember them or have to write them down.

Gehrke said that if a student is uncertain about an email he or she receives that they should send it to the support desk so they can look at it.

Many examples of scams have been in the news recently. A recent media release from the Brookings Sheriff’s department warned individuals of scams pretending to be the IRS. A recent Public Service Announcement from the Internet Crime Complaint Center warned of scammers who used phishing to specifically target a university.

Because universities have such vast amounts of information, including technological and research information, they are often targeted. SDSU has had a few small breeches, but other universities like the University of North Dakota and the University of Indiana have had major breaches, which have led to thousands of students and faculty being exposed to identity fraud.

Knutson believes that students must remain diligent in their fight against hackers and that “we are on the front lines of cyber security here in Brookings as we are any other place.”