Security kits for all as threats 'increase'

December 2, 2005

Academics were this week given guidelines on how to counter online bullying, computer bugs and persistent hackers.

The Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (Ucisa) sent £100,000 worth of "security toolkits" free to all universities and higher education colleges in the UK.

The pack contains advice on how to bring university computer systems and software in line with legislation. It also provides templates for confidentiality agreements to be signed by staff with access to sensitive information.

Security experts at Ucisa believe that universities are increasingly vulnerable to threats to their computer systems.

One new threat is online bullying, an incident of which was reported to Ucisa last week by a college in Wales. Online bullying has been described as the misuse of e-mail systems or the internet for harassing people, for example by sending aggressive messages.

The pack advises those subjected to online bullying to seek legal advice and to collect evidence for their case.

Peter Tinson, the executive secretary of Ucisa, believes institutions have underestimated the importance of security when it comes to their computer networks. He said: "Organisations are facing increasing threats from a wide range of sources. Systems and networks may be the target of computer-based fraud, espionage, vandalism and other sources of failure.

"New sources, such as computer viruses and hackers, continue to emerge.

Such threats to information security are expected to become more widespread and increasingly sophisticated.

"Because of increased dependence on information technology systems and services, higher education institutions are becoming more vulnerable to security threats. There are now more and more teaching materials available online. As such, IT is very much 'business-critical' for higher education institutions. IT is now the fourth utility after water, gas and electricity."

The pack offers advice on how universities can make sure they comply with legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Terrorism Act 2000.

He said: "Holders of personal data must not only be registered under the Data Protection Act, they must also take adequate steps to protect data from unauthorised access. This is increasingly important as an ever wider range of administrative staff deal with business-critical information."

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