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Straight “A” Hackers: Keeping School Records Safe

Posted by on Jul 9, 2013

Hackers have set their sights on universities and school records. With a single security breach, hackers have been able to access sensitive school records, alter grades, and severely damage the brands of cherished academic institutions. But schools and universities can proactively protect their students and reputations from hacking through securing student data with a private cloud storage and sync service.

Discarded school records

Photo courtesy of Berkelyside.com

Recently, three former Purdue University students were charged with 58 felonies and misdemeanors for allegedly running a grade hacking scheme. The hackers allegedly changed incomplete marks and failing grades to high marks including A’s and B’s. According to the prosecution, the suspects broke into the offices of professors and switched out their keyboards with ones that had key-logging devices installed. With the key-logging devices in place, the students were able to discern the passwords for each professor’s computer, ultimately granting access into grade programs. While grade inflation has been a topic of concern in higher education, the threat of grade hacking undermines the entire educational process.

Roy Sun and Sujay Sharma

Photo courtesy of fox59.com

Hacking even disrupts extracurricular activities and impacts prestigious institutions without prejudice. The most recent elections for president of the Oxford University Union have been a source of much controversy, especially with allegations of hacking. The Oxford University Union was forced to step down amidst a scandal involving his attempted hacking attempts, showing that students will not tolerate hacking in their institutions, even in the case of student election. Other universities that have been the victim of hacking include Chinese institutions like Fudan University, Shanghai University of Engineering Science, and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. With a simple SQL injection, hackers have attacked Chinese college website about 113 times a day on average.

Edward Snowden

Photo courtesy of abcnews.com

Controversial whistleblower Edward Snowden has claimed, along with the notorious revelation of the NSA’s PRISM program, that the U.S. has routinely attacked a Hong Kong university, whose systems help route all of Hong Kong’s web traffic. According to Snowden, the National Security Agency currently has over 60,000 active hacking targets all around the world, many of which include schools and universities. Instead of holding up student data as collateral damage in the international cyber wars, universities can guard student records against attacks of all sorts by trusting sensitive data to a private cloud service that offers good encryption as well as user anonymity.

Universities around the world have turned to the cloud for savings on servers, server space, large IT staff, and maintenance fees. The scalability of the cloud makes it an obvious option for institutions with fluctuating class sizes and data needs. Recently, the University of the Philippines kicked of its first wave of cloud adoption, with promises of moving even further to the cloud in the future. Through the Google Apps for Education program, email and collaborative applications have moved to the cloud, offering UP students greater storage capacity, reliable servers, and mobile collaboration. UP Assistant Vice President for Development Jaime Caro said, “the rollout of these Google Apps for Education services is just one of the many things underway from the eUP project. In time, these accounts will be synced with the user credentials needed to access the information systems that will be deployed in phases to the campuses. Once completely rolled out to all campuses, this is expected to benefit more than 70,000 members of the UP community (students, faculty, staff): with Google Apps for Education, they will be able to boost their online productivity with 30 GB inbox space, greater file sharing capacity, and a supportive environment for online collaboration.” Elvira Zamora, UP Vice President for Development, further highlighted the benefits of the switch, “The best part is that these tools support and encourage sharing and group work online, much like physically working together in class or in the office. Through these applications, UP students, faculty, staff, and even us administrators will have greater opportunities for collaboration despite geographic constraints.” In a digital age in which more and more of traditional education is taking place online, such flexibility is essential to the survival of higher education institutions. But unless schools choose private cloud services that protect both data and identity, hackers could seize sensitive student information that could undermine the potential of both the student and the university.

SpiderOak Blue

For schools looking to the cloud, SpiderOak Blue offers fully private “public” and onsite server options for full flexibility. Choosing the right third party cloud service can be a challenge as many services on the market have security gaps that leave private student and school data vulnerable to third party attacks. But SpiderOak sets itself apart from the rest of the market by providing a fully private cloud service featuring all of the benefits of cloud storage along with 100% data anonymity.

SpiderOak protects sensitive enterprise data through 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Authorized accounts can store and sync sensitive data with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user passwords or data. And all plaintext encryption keys are exclusively stored on approved devices, as SpiderOak never hosts plaintext data of any kind. SpiderOak Blue’s private cloud services are available for schools and universities on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, making this one of the only flexible cross-platform solutions on the market.

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