Security technology to help students in future careers

By Claire Hettinger

Throughout their careers, many students will deal with sensitive information and will be at risk for compromising this information if they are not able to use proper security measures. Two College of Media IT professionals want to ensure that University students are able to understand and use these technologies during their careers.

Taylor Judd, internet technology specialist, and Mike Bohlmann, director of information technology, are teaching Media 199: Security and Privacy for Communication, a second eight-week course designed to help students learn how to communicate securely with sources and search the web without the risk of their activity being tracked.

Judd explained that sometimes professionals working in foreign countries are stopped at the border and customs officers will confiscate their equipment and examine its information. There is a certain need to encrypt sensitive information in these situations to prevent unauthorized access to the information by people who may want to contain it, he said.

Judd said they wanted to create “a course that will expose the students and teach them how they can use these tools without worrying about the barriers of technology.”

The class will include hands-on demonstrations of how easy it is to access someone’s personal data. Another objective is to build awareness of the ways that information can be accessed externally.

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Bohlmann and Judd said they want to offer the class now in the wake of recent world events. They said the coverage of reporters who worked with Edward Snowden really caught their attention because Snowden wanted to communicate at a high-security level and the reporters had not heard of the technologies he wanted to use. They said it made them realize that University students may be lacking this knowledge as well.

Bohlmann said the main three tools they will be focusing on are the Tor Project, TrueCrypt and GNU Privacy Guard.

Wayland Morgan, a University IT security analyst, helped teach a workshop on this topic during the fall semester. He said the tools they are teaching are easy to use as well as freely available online.

GNU Privacy Guard, or GPG, is an email encryption software that makes use of what is known as “public key cryptography,” Morgan said in an email. GPG uses a public key and a corresponding private key, both of which can only be unlocked by the other.

Morgan said the messages are encrypted on the sender’s computer, so by the time that it is transmitted to its intended recipient it “looks like garbage.” The receiver of the message must download the email to their computer in order to decipher the message, he said.

TrueCrypt is another encryption service used for files. An example of this, Bohlmann said, is if he were to lose his flash drive with private information, it would not matter because the files it contains are encrypted with TrueCrypt and cannot be read by anyone but him.

Tor is free software that is used to provide anonymity to its users by directing Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network to conceal a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis, Morgan said.

“It is an excellent tool for people who want to read things anonymously,” Morgan said. “There have been a few stories where people who live in Syria, for example, have Tor, and they claim it is the reason they are still alive because they are able to view things and communicate with people without fear of repercussions.”

“The more people who use Tor, the more effective the tool itself actually is,” Judd said.

The same applies to TrueCrypt and GPG — the more people who use these tools “the safer we all are,” Judd said. The NSA, for example, may notice an encrypted email and try to decrypt it, but there’s a possibility it may just include lunch plans, he said.

“These innovations have very real privacy implications for individuals, so I think it goes without saying that balancing privacy concerns is and will be a major concern for a number of years to come,” Morgan said.

There is a renewed focus on individual privacy due to recent government surveillance revelations, but the sharing of user data is a big part of the current economy and in the technology sector in particular, he said.

Bolhmann and Judd said they would like to see students come away from this class being able to use these tools and to join in the discussion surrounding them.

“When they are members of their communities, whether it’s journalism, advertising, or whatever community, they can participate in the discussion and move it forward and encourage more people in their field to use these tools,” Judd said.

Claire can be reached at [email protected].