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More laptops spell security worries at MU

Monday, January 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:31 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

The rising number of laptops on campus has prompted security concerns for both Information and Technology Services, and the MU Police Department.

Last semester, IATS began registering residence hall students’ computers and encouraging other MU affiliates to do the same. So far about 10,000 computers have been registered with IATS. About 4,400 are laptops.

Brandon Hough, security manager at IATS, says registering is a simple process.

“People log in with their pawprint and password, and that’s it,” Hough said, referring to the name MU students use to access campus computers and e-mail accounts.

By completing this process, students hand over their Machine Access Control. The MAC address is a number that identifies a computer’s Internet port.

IATS has network management programs that scan the network for computers without updated security patches or the latest anti-virus protection and detect signatures given off by viruses and hacking activities.

In the past, if such activity was detected there was no way of identifying the user of the computer. Because of the new registration process, IATS can contact individuals to resolve the issue.

“The reasons (for implementing the registration process) were to provide students with vulnerability information and to reduce downtime, so that if a security incident occurred on a machine we could notify them quicker and help them get that resolved,” Hough said.

IATS Director Beth Chancellor said that during the past few years the number of reported hacking incidents has been reduced, and most have been from outside the campus. However, violations such as using another student’s e-mail account or printing quota have gone up.

“The biggest risk is people giving others’ passwords,” Chancellor said.

The increased popularity of laptops has also lead to more stolen computers.

“Laptops are portable, so they are prime targets (for theft),” Chancellor said.

MU police Officer Jennifer Redel said 40 laptops were reported stolen in 2004 in contrast to 16 reports of stolen laptops and other computer-related equipment in 2003. Only three laptops have been recovered so far.

“Last year we had an unusual number of laptop thefts,” she said.

To be able to identify stolen laptops, the police department is offering its own registration. The police record the make and model of the laptop and any other characteristics. So far, 527 laptops have been registered with the department.

If a stolen computer has a registered MAC address, IATS can use its network tools to pinpoint that computer once it comes online.

Besides registering with the police and IATS, there are other methods of protecting one’s laptop. Labmice.net, a resource page for Microsoft Windows users, advises people to register their laptops with the manufacturer in case a stolen laptop is ever taken back for repairs.


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