Hacking a “real threat” at Ryerson, say security officers

Ryerson University fends off thousands of cyber attacks a day, says Ryerson computer expert Brian Lesser.

“If you look at the firewall logs, it’s just constant. I couldn’t believe all the attacks when I first saw,” says Lesser, Ryerson’s director of computing and communications services.

Ryerson is not the only with cyber attack issues. A recent Toronto Star story reported that hackers systematically target universities. The University of Wisconsin, for example, is fighting off 100, 000 hacking attempts per day from China alone, according to the Star.

Thirty years ago, a university needed a lock and key to keep everyone safe. Now, it takes the combined efforts of a dedicated tech team and collaboration with other Canadian universities to keep the students – and their research – secure.

Also, I can’t say this enough, do not share your password.

Ryerson’s servers hold a wealth of knowledge across all areas of study – it’s a goldmine for idea peddlers. But breaking into a university server is akin to scaling K2 for a hacker.

“It’s true that they are targeting research information,” says Lesser. However, finding out who ‘they’ are really is like falling down the rabbit hole.

“It takes an incredible amount of effort to understand where [the attacks] are coming from,” says Mugino Saeki, Ryerson’s information systems security officer.

“In 2007 we had a serious attack and it looked like it was coming from Germany. Then, a few years ago, we had another that looked like it was coming from Spain. We started looking and it suddenly isn’t clear where they are coming from.”

But the enemy is advancing. Ghost hackers, a new breed of cyber spies, have the ability to hide behind botnet battalions and remote servers in even more remote places. They slip in an out of networks and servers without a digital trace.

The most effective repellent is constant vigilance, but in a school of thousands, that can be hard to enforce.

Ryerson offers free malware and anti-spyware to students. Lesser and Saeki say that securing all personal devices is the first step to keeping university data safe.

“Also, I can’t say this enough, do not share your password,” cautions Lesser.

“Have a unique Ryerson password and don’t be tricked into sharing it. Every month we detect some student’s account has been compromised and we have to shut it down.”

The Ryerson brain trust is highly valuable and with some of the most creative minds in Canada coming to the campus every day to work and share ideas, the school is a prime target.

The spoils of online poaching are lucrative and data currency is rising in value everyday.

“It’s a real threat and it’s constant,” says Lesser.

At the end of the day, however, it’s up to students to keep their research safe – especially if they are switching between personal and school-regulated devices.

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