This is the final phase of the case study assignments. The primary purpose of this project is for you to demonstrate your understanding of the principles covered in this course. You will create a minimum 12 PowerPoint slides to summarize the policy review conducted and your recommendations for the next steps the merged company should take to protect its data and information assets. The cover, summary/conclusion and reference slides are not part of the slide count. It will also include a minimum of 5 references. The grading rubric provides additional information about content and formatting of your presentation. Each policy review and recommendations presentation should address the following: Current policy: Discuss the current (as per the case study) IT cybersecurity policy. New technology: Describe the functionality of the new technology selected for implementation and the challenges associated with the current cybersecurity policy. Identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could be introduced by the new technology that might not be mitigated by technological configuration management. Recommendations: Discuss revisions and modifications that must be made to the current IT cybersecurity policy to ensure that the new technology does not compromise the organizations cybersecurity posture. Address the inter- and intra-organization leadership, managerial, and policy challenges and effects associated with the recommendations.CSIA 485 Project #6 Detailed Assignment Description
This is the final phase of the case study assignments. The primary purpose of this project is for
you to demonstrate your understanding of the principles covered in this course. You will create a
minimum 12 PowerPoint slides to summarize the policy review conducted and your
recommendations for the next steps the merged company should take to protect its data and
information assets. The cover, summary/conclusion and reference slides are not part of the slide
count. It will also include a minimum of 5 references. The grading rubric provides additional
information about content and formatting of your presentation.
Each policy review and recommendations presentation should address the following:
Current policy: Discuss the current (as per the case study) IT cybersecurity policy.
New technology: Describe the functionality of the new technology selected for
implementation and the challenges associated with the current cybersecurity policy.
Identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could be introduced by the new technology that
might not be mitigated by technological configuration management.
Recommendations: Discuss revisions and modifications that must be made to the
current IT cybersecurity policy to ensure that the new technology does not compromise
the organizations cybersecurity posture. Address the inter- and intra-organization
leadership, managerial, and policy challenges and effects associated with the
Copyright © 2015 by University of Maryland University College. All rights reserved.
Journal of Information Technology Education:
Innovations in Practice
Volume 11, 2012
Disaster at a University:
A Case Study in Information Security
Ramakrishna Ayyagari and Jonathan Tyks
University of Massachusetts-Boston, Boston, MA, USA
Security and disaster training is identified as a top Information Technology (IT) required skill that
needs to be taught in Information Systems (IS) curriculums. Accordingly, information security
and privacy have become core concepts in information system education. Providing IT security
on a shoestring budget is always difficult and many small universities are challenged with balancing cost and effectiveness. Many colleges and universities have additional security challenges,
such as relaxed working environments, less formalized policies and procedures, and employees
that “wear many hats.” Therefore, it is not surprising to note that majority of data breaches since
2005 occur in educational settings. So, it is imperative that this segment (i.e., educational settings) be represented in classroom discussions to prepare future employees.
To this end, we present a case that addresses a data breach at a university caused by lax security
policies and includes an element of social engineering. The data breach at the university resulted
in a number of students’ losing personally identifiable information. The resulting aftermath
placed a significant financial burden on the university as it was not prepared to handle an information security disaster. This case can be used as a pedagogical tool as it uniquely captured a data
breach in a university setting. Readers of the case will identify that at the management level the
case raised a number of issues regarding the security culture at the university and management of
security function. The case also highlights the issues of lack of training and access control.
Keywords: Information Security, Disaster Recovery, Data Breach.
Security and disaster training is identified as the top IT required skill that needs to be taught in IS
curriculums (Kim, Hsu, & Stern, 2006). Accordingly, information security and privacy have become core concepts in information system education (Hentea, Dhillon, & Dhillon, 2006; Kroenke, 2012; Laudon & Laudon, 2010). Instructors have several approaches to teach security and
privacy concepts. One can take a more traditional lecture based approach or a more hands-on approach that utilizes labs, case studies, etc. (Gregg, 2008). It is important to note that advances in
pedagogical research place emphasis on
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Accordingly, active learning has gained
prominence among educators and researchers (Meyers & Jones, 1993). Students are eager and seek opportunities to
Editor: Uolevi Nikula
Information Security Disaster
apply their knowledge to simulate realistic situations (Auster & Wylie, 2006). Research shows
that students find learning achieved through active participation to be more meaningful and valuable (Mitchell, 2004; Pariseau & Kezim, 2007; Wingfield & Black, 2005). One of the ways in
which students can be engaged is through case studies (Bradford & Peck, 1997; Shapiro, 1984;
Pariseau & Kezim, 2007). Case studies provide the students a unique opportunity to assume the
roles of participants in the cases (Richards, Gorman, Scherer, & Landel, 1995). This provides an
opportunity for students to reflect on their learning and apply it to crystallize their thoughts and
arguments. Students are put into situations that can be ambiguous and force students to make decisions dealing with uncertainties (Richards et al., 1995). In fact, a recent study about learning
preferences indicates that students place high value for case studies (Goorha & Mohan, 2009).
Raising awareness regarding security issues faced by educational institutions is important because
the majority of reported breaches occur in educational settings. An analysis of all the data breaches from 2005 indicates that 21\% of breaches occur in academic settings resulting in more than 8
million individual records being compromised (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2011). It should be
noted that the ‘education’ industry has the most number of breaches compared to any other industry category including medical, businesses, and government agencies (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2011). Further, fundamental differences exist between academic and business settings. It is
common practice in businesses to protect trade secrets, intellectual property, etc. However, educational settings are based on values of information sharing. As Qayoumi and Woody (2005, page
8) point out, “…the concept of information security runs counter to the open culture of information sharing – a deeply held value in academe.” Therefore, it is important to raise awareness about
the severity of security issues facing university settings. However, a brief review of published
cases in prominent outlets reveals that typical cases are geared towards business settings as presented below.
Literature Review of Security Case Studies
Most of the prominent security case studies focus on how businesses deal with data breaches or
privacy issues. For example, McNulty (2007) discusses the impact of a data breach on customers
in a retail electronics setting. The case deals with issues of the best way to communicate the
breach with customers and, overall, forces the participants to consider disaster response strategy
before a disaster occurs. Similarly, Haggerty and Chandrasekhar (2008) highlight the events leading to and the fallout due to a data breach at TJX. These cases highlight the issues of enormous
amount of data that retailers generate and the onus on firms to protect the sensitive information.
Eisenmann’s (2009) case addresses the severity of growing dependence on technology in the
medical industry. The case setting is a hospital (medical industry) where the access to medical
records is denied, putting numerous lives at risk. As the hackers try to extort money, the case
raises ethical and legal questions and forces participants to make tough decisions.
Coutu (2007) raises ethical questions about the growing issue of lack of privacy in the networked
world. The case addresses whether the information found on Internet about a person can become
a burden in advancing the person’s careers. Ethical and privacy questions related to confidentiality of data and data reuse in business settings are also raised (Davenport & Harris, 2007; Fusaro,
2004; Schenberger & Mark, 2001). Davenport and Harris (2007) present a case that deals with the
issue of data reuse. It is a common practice for businesses to share customer data with the businesses’ affiliates. The case in question asks at what stage is the sharing of information detrimental
to customers? In a similar vein, Fusaro’s (2004) case asks at what stage do the data collected for
customization cross the boundary and become invasion of privacy? DoubleClick’s profiling issues and breach of privacy are also well known (Schenberger & Mark, 2001). Complaints filed
with the Federal Trade Commission had a severe impact on the shares of DoubleClick and led to
the development of privacy policies (Schenberger & Mark, 2001).
Ayyagari & Tyks
As this review points out, security case studies generally focus on business settings even though
educational institutions experience a fair share of security incidents. We address this gap by first
presenting a case study of a security breach at a university. We conclude by providing discussion
points and the lessons learned from this case study.
Disaster at a University – A Case Study
Turn Key University (TKU) is a medium sized public university located in Idaho. The institution
is situated on a beautiful 25 acre campus, just north of a major city. The University consists of
over 6,000 students mostly from the surrounding region. The institution is a liberal arts college
that offers over 30 undergraduate majors and a dozen graduate degrees. The school has a reputation for producing quality graduates for the surrounding community. The University is a major
employer in the area, providing jobs for over 900 employees.
The institution was organized as a typical university bureaucracy, with the President’s office
overseeing the Academic Affairs, Administrative Support Services, Human Resources, Finance,
and Information Technology divisions as shown in Figure 1. The IT, Finance, and Administrative
Support divisions are the primary focus of this case.
Figure 1: TKU’s Organizational Hierarchy
As shown in Figure 2, the Information Technology division consisted of six departments — Institutional Projects, Media Services, Teaching Support, Computing Systems, Web Services, and
Network & Telecom. Each of these departments was managed by a Director who reported to the
Chief Information Officer (CIO). The Information Technology Division managed all aspects of
computing on the University campus. The IT division employed over 70 permanent members and
several temporary/student employees. The IT division required a large server farm to manage a
transaction management system and other systems. TKU centralized all server functions in the
Computing Systems department.
Information Security Disaster
Figure 2: IT Division Hierarchy
Administrative Support Services supported the ancillary services offered by the college. Among
other things, this division managed relationships between the on-campus and off-campus vendors.
On-campus vendors include the post office, GoodFood (the student meal plan provider), CollegeBooks (the bookstore operator), and FastSnack (the snack machine provider). The snack machines were an important part of students’ life as many students relied on late night RedBull®
runs to make it through a last minute cram session. Off-campus vendors include restaurants, tanning parlors, and gas stations. Compared to the IT division, Administrative Support Services was
relatively small, with approximately one-fifth the numbers of personnel in the IT division.
The Finance Division was responsible for managing and reporting the financial state of the University. The division was made up of five departments: Financial Affairs, the Budget Office, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, and Student Services. All financial information reporting
was overseen by the Financial Affairs department. Overall, the Finance division employed 30
permanent employees and several part-time members on a need basis.
Since 2000, TKU used a transaction management system for student meal plans. There were three
different meal plan tiers: a lower volume plan that was aimed towards commuters, a middle volume plan that was targeted for full time students who leave on the weekends, and a high volume
plan that was designed for students who eat all meals on campus. Out of the three plans, the middle volume plan was the most popular among students and responsible for the majority share of
In addition to the meal plans, the transaction management system handled virtual dollars. Virtual
dollars can be thought of as a prepaid credit card. At the beginning of the semester students were
given a balance based on their meal plan, and students drew down the balance by purchasing
items from vendors. Students and parents were also able to add additional funds on the card
through an online portal. Students paid for items using virtual dollars at a variety of vendors –
they spent it on books from the bookstore, stamps from the post office, drinks from the snack ma-
Ayyagari & Tyks
chines, and on food from neighborhood restaurants. Virtual dollars were a hit with students as
they enjoyed having the freedom and convenience to pick what they wanted, when they wanted.
The transaction management system was more than a way for students to purchase food; it was
also a profit center for the college. From a fiscal perspective, the system was able to generate annual profits of $600,000 for TKU. Most of the revenues were from commissions on sales to vendors. Due to corporate cultural issues (as discussed below), the control of the system spanned
across the IT, Administrative Support Services, and Finance divisions, although none of the divisions received commissions. All the money generated from the system went into a central fund
managed by the President’s Office.
History of the System: Reflection of Corporate Culture
The Transaction Management System (TMS) had been in place for over ten years at the writing
of this case and within that time frame it had changed hands multiple times. Initially the system
was handled by the Computing Systems department in the Information Technology Division. The
typical system administrator learned about the system on-the-job in an informal fashion, and there
was a lack of process or steps that could be reproduced when system administrators changed. Further, when the system was implemented, security was an afterthought and security responsibilities
played a minor role in system administrators’ job duties. As a result, the current state of the system was that (1) there was a lack of formal process in managing the system and (2) the system
was never secured. At the time of writing, the system was managed by two administrators – Gary
and Tom from the Computing Systems department. They had been in their roles for a little over a
Although the TMS system depended on multiple divisions (IT, Finance, etc.,) for effective operation, the incentives in place were conducive to reinforcing the functional boundaries among various divisions (see Figure 1), thus resulting in friction among divisions. As the TMS grew in stature, the logical solution to reduce the political tensions among divisions was to split the system
responsibilities among the divisions. In this arrangement, IT continued to manage the servers with
Gary as the primary administrator and Tom as the backup. The Finance division took over the
administration and user access portion of the system. The responsibilities for system administrator fell on Don who had some technical background and was seen as a ‘tech geek’ in the Finance
division. At the time of this case study, Don had been in the system administrator role for three
months. When Don inherited the system, he received no formal system administration or security
training and found that there were no formal policies or business rules in place. As he learned the
system, he realized it housed a large amount of personally identifiable information (PII). There
were student social security numbers (which acted as a students’ primary ID in the university system), addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and meal plan information.
The Security Structure: Technical Safeguards
The security structure was handled in two different ways. The first was by ensuring only authorized people had access to the system. The second was by viewing events in the log files. The system was set up in a typical hierarchical structure, comparable to Windows Active Directory.
There were user accounts that branched into user groups. People could access the system by logging in with a username and password, similar to how a person would access their home computer. When a user needed an account, the system administrator would assign a username and
password. Once a user had a username, the system administrator placed the user in the appropriate user group, which determined what functions the user could perform. The administrator group
had full permissions and consequently had free reign of the system. Among other things, the administrator could run reports, change meal plan settings, upload data and export data from the
Information Security Disaster
The next method of managing system security was through the log files. The transaction management system created system logs whenever an event occurred. This feature was very useful for
showing what happened within a system. The logging feature showed the time, the user group,
and the event that occurred. While the logs were useful, the primary drawback was that they only
showed what group created an event. As a result, events could only be seen at the group level.
This means if a user logged into the system and made a change and was a member of the administrator group, the log would only show that someone in that group made a change. It didn’t show
which user made the change.
The Issue: Data Breach
Early one morning, Don was ushered into a closed door meeting with the Chief Finance Officer,
the CIO, and an external security auditor he hadn’t met before. In the meeting Don learned that
large amount of data, including the PII, was exported from the system. The previous day Gary
was going through the logs to see if the patch he applied worked correctly, and he noticed that
someone in the administrator group had exported a large amount of data at an odd time. Gary reasoned that no one should be accessing the system at 2am, and he was concerned because a large
amount of data was exported. After bringing up the issue to management, it was decided that the
Finance division would investigate the issue. Therefore, the responsibility to figure out exactly
what happened fell on Don. He was asked to work with an auditor to find out exactly what happened. Don left the meeting feeling overwhelmed and disconcerted; he knew nothing about security practices and he wasn’t happy about working with the auditor. He had recently inherited the
system and didn’t know much about it. He did know that he had to find the source of the leak before more student information was lost and he knew his job might be on the line.
The Investigation: Lax Security Policies and Culture
The auditor decided to interview the users of each business unit. At a basic level, he wanted to
figure out if the leak was an internal job or if TKU had fallen victim to a hacker. So, he wanted to
see the different entry points that a potential hacker could get access to the system. Further, the
auditor felt it necessary to check the user account structure, the business rules, and department
norms. By doing this, the auditor felt confident that he could determine which user in the administrator group was responsible for the data leak, if it was an internal job. Throughout the investigation, Don was going to support the auditor and would provide the required information.
The auditor and Don started the audit process by going through the system. They checked the user accounts and found multiple points where a hacker could have entered the system. They found
over 50 orphan accounts, which are accounts that had been set up but never used. When an account is set up, the policy is for the system administrator to provide the same generic password.
Once a user logs into the system, they are prompted to enter a new password. Since none of these
accounts were used, all of the accounts had the same password. A hacker could have easily
cracked the generic password and gotten access to the system.
Another area of concern was with password complexity. The system didn’t require users to have
strong passwords. Passwords could be as short as three characters long and didn’t need to include
numbers or special characters. The passwords could be kept forever and most had never been
changed. With the current sophisticated password cracking programs available on the Internet,
hackers could break into the system in seconds. This seemed very likely as figuring out the system usernames was very easy. The usernames were based on the name of the user. The first letter
of the username was the first letter of the person’s first name. The last part of the username was
the person’s last name. For example, Gary Tolman’s username was gtolman. This type of username assignment is very common, but it can also pose a threat. Each employee’s name was listed
on the TKU website, so a hacker could easily find a username.
Ayyagari & Tyks
Lastly, the system was accessed by a variety of users. They were spread out between Information
Technology, Finance, and the Administrative Support Divisions, so finding the exact users would
be difficult. Anyone in these divisions could be the source of the leak. Don and the auditor didn’t
know how they were going to trace the culprit, but they knew they had a daunting task. They
started off by interviewing people in the three divisions. The Administrative Support Services
division used the transaction system to run reports, so the users only had permissions to run reports. Don and the auditor found that in addition to the approved users, more people accessed the
system. Employees routinely gave out their login information to student workers and temporary
employees to run reports when they were busy or on vacation. The employees shared this login
information on Post-it® notes, over the phone, and in email. The department did not have rules
explaining proper procedures, so employees thought these practices were acceptable and the
Next, Don and the auditor interviewed people in the IT Division. They focused on the Computing
Systems department, which handles the technical end of the transaction management system. This
includes duties such as managing the server, setting up off-campus merchants, maintaining oncampus connections, and troubleshooting networking issues. The transaction management system
from an IT perspective is a server with a simple front end that users log into and a database that
holds the information. Don and the auditor found that there were no formalized policies or procedures detailing how to complete tasks. There were no business rules and the department lacked
consistency in its approach to managing the system. In this department, three administrators had
full administrative rights, so they had full access to the system, allowing them to add user permissions or initiate data exports. During the interview, Don and the auditor also realized that in the
past when IT handled information security employees routinely gave out initial passwords in
email or on the phone. There was only one clear written policy and that was broken routinely.
The policy stipulated the Finance division was to extract the required data to run reports from the
system. However, the IT division continued to extract data for the majority of users. People preferred IT to extract the data because they were quicker than Finance. Further, the auditor was informed that there was a major upgrade to the campus infrastructure recently, and during that time
outside contractors were on-site as technical advisors. The contractors were supposed to have
given limited access, but by this point, the auditor was not convinced if this exactly happened.
The following day, Don and the auditor looked at the Finance division. The Finance division
handled the system administration and the access permissions for the system. The department also
oversaw the functional components, such as crediting accounts if a student was charged incorrectly for an item. The system was also used to run business intelligence reports. Don was the
primary administrator for the system, so he had complete access to it. He was able to perform
functions such as setting up user accounts and exporting data. It was his responsibility to ensure
that correct people had access to the system.
At this point, Don took a back seat and the auditor interviewed him. The auditor realized that Don
didn’t have much experience managing the system. Further, he also gave out passwords to users
through email or on the phone. The auditor also found that Don didn’t require users to have
strong passwords. Next, the auditor interviewed the accountants that used the system. The accountants had only limited access to the system. They could post transactions and transfer funds,
but nothing to the extent of exporting data.
The Outcome: Victim of Social Engineering
Throughout the process, the auditor found countless examples of lax information security
throughout the organization. There was a lack of a coordinated security policy, and the policies in
place were not being followed. While reviewing the notes, the auditor noticed that a contractor
requested the TMS server address over the phone. Further follow up revealed that a system ad-
Information Security Disaster
ministrator gave out the server address to a contractor because the contractors were in the middle
of upgrading servers. The administrator also mentioned that the contractor requested the password, but the administrator didn’t feel comfortable sharing the password on the phone and asked
the contractor to stop by the office – but the contractor was a no show. From the description of
the events, the auditor felt it was a social engineering attempt. Social engineering is when a hacker attempts to gain access to sensitive information by tricking a person into giving it to them. The
immediate recommendation of the auditor was to focus on the contractor’s activity in the organization.
Over the next few weeks the story unfolded and all the pieces of the puzzle were put together. It
was eventually proven that the contractor stole the information. The contractor was hired to oversee the upgrade of servers on the storage network. While doing this, she learned about the transaction management system. She knew PII could be sold on the black market and thought the lax
security at TKU would enable her to get away with stealing data without any repercussions. Her
only obstacle was access. Since she only had access to the storage network, she needed a way to
get access to the transaction management server. That’s when she called the system administrator
and got the IP address and tried to get his login credentials. Once she got the IP address, she was
able to utilize the free tools available on the Internet to scan the system and get the username and
password with administrative access. It took her only a matter of minutes to get this information.
The password was only three characters long and didn’t use any numbers or special characters.
With her new administrative permissions, she was able to export the PII.
TKU was very lucky with the outcome of the data breach. Only five hundred students had their
information compromised. While any loss of PII is unfortunate, high profile data breaches, such
as the ones at TJX, show how losing large amounts of data can be very costly to an institution.
Like many businesses, the University attempted to keep the data breach quiet, but the breach information was eventually released. The fear of student backlash and the need to be compliant
with privacy breach laws forced the university to inform the campus community of the breach.
Students were initially very angry and felt as though they could not trust the university with their
private data. To help improve student morale, the president offered reduced tuition for a semester
and a year of paid credit monitoring service to victims of data breach. The University’s generous
response helped to calm the protests, but it came at a price. TKU estimated that the tangible costs
associated with the breach amounted to over $600,000 dollars. However, TKU will never know
how the breach affected the university’s reputation.
This case is presented in an educational setting and raises numerous issues that deserve attention.
People, Process and Technology are identified as essential pillars of good security practices
(Merkow & Breithaupt, 2005). This case can be analyzed from this perspective. The main lessons
learned from this case are presented in Table 1. The table highlights the security themes supported by literature and the suggested improvements.
One of the main recurring themes in the case is that of lax security policies. Strong leadership is
needed to develop a security program that changes the security culture in the organization so that
security behaviors become second nature to employees (Thomson, von Solms, & Louw, 2006).
Although developing a security program can be challenging, the biggest challenge faced by management is justifying the cost. However, this shouldn’t act as a deterrent as, with proper planning,
the program can be developed on a shoestring budget (Sridhar & Bhasker, 2003). TKU can significantly improve the security culture and strengthen its security efforts by appointing a chief
security officer (Lowendahl, Zastrocky, & Harris,2006). Having a dedicated figurehead for secu-
Ayyagari & Tyks
rity can also alleviate some of the tensions between departments with respect to dealing with security incidents. Throughout this process, management should realize that ‘complete security’ is a
myth and the university needs to be constantly prepared (Austin & Darby, 2003).
Table 1: Lessons learned
Top Management Support
Practices Supported from
Practices Supported from
Top management support is
necessary to dedicate resources, create policies, and
establish culture & norms
(Lowendahl et al., 2006;
Panko, 2009; Thomson et al.,
The lack of security figurehead
is a major drawback. The university should consider appointing a chief security officer.
Strong access control (password) policies need to be implemented (Merkow &
Breithaupt, 2005; Scarfone &
Souppaya, 2009). Access
should be based on the principle of least privilege to accomplish an individual’s task.
Access control policies need to
Constant communication is
needed to change the security
The cases of sharing and giving passwords over the phone,
writing them down are clear
violations of access control
Since policies are good only to
the degree they are enforced,
violations should result in
some disciplinary action. This
would also enhance the security culture.
Training / Awareness
As security landscape changes
constantly, so does the need to
retool employees with latest
training (Hentea, 2005; Wilson
& Hash, 2003). For example,
training programs that are few
years old would not have included the aspect of social networking sites.
The employees need to be constantly reminded that they are
an integral part of security.
The training program needs to
be implemented and constantly
reviewed to keep up with the
TKU should invest significant resources in raising awareness among its users. In a study of security practices in university settings, Caruso (2003) reports that the greatest barriers to security are
availability of resources and awareness. It is often the case that to achieve effective security, focus should be on humans, not technology itself (Caruso, 2003). Hentea et al. (2006) report that
“User awareness and education are the most critical elements because many successful security
intrusions come from simple variations of the basics: social engineering and user complacency”
(page 228). Therefore, TKU should also ensure that proper training is provided for all employees
so that they become aware of security threats. Ideally, this training program should be recurrent,
as new threats arise continuously (Medlin & Romaniello, 2007). It is recommended that employ-
Information Security Disaster
ees take security training and, then, keep up-to-date with a refresher course once a year. Further,
employees responsible for sensitive information need to be properly trained with respect to regulatory compliance. For example, proper training in social engineering aspects could have provided the employees with the tools needed to identify these type of attacks and could have probably avoided the TKU’s breach. As Mitnick (2003) argues, the weakest link in the security chain is
not technological, but it is the human element. He provides simple examples about how even with
sound technical defenses, it is still possible for an attacker to gain upper hand by using social engineering. Such training could bolster the work force and can make the employees cognizant and
cautious in their approach to security.
Another place in which the process and technology need to improve is with respect to access control. Currently, TKU has a very weak password policy and it should be improved. However, the
password issues faced by TKU are not uncommon. In a study of health care workers, it was found
that passwords used to protect sensitive patient information had significant problems (Medlin &
Romaniello, 2007). For example, it is reported that some users had same or similar passwords as
their usernames. Another study of actual e-commerce passwords revealed that one-third of users
used very weak passwords and the time it took to crack these passwords was less than a minute
(Cazier & Medlin, 2006). A recent study studying users’ password practices found that users
don’t use strong passwords (Barra, McLeod, Savage, & Simkin, 2010). A typical strong password
consists of alpha numeric characters (upper and lowercase), symbols, and is at least 8 characters
long. Also, studies have revealed that individuals (especially in university settings) are willing to
give their own and their friends’ passwords for some token gifts (Smith, 2004). Given the problems with remembering passwords and the simplicity of passwords, it is proposed that users develop and utilize passphrases to improve password security (Keith, Shao, & Steinbart, 2009). Users should also be discouraged from sharing or mailing passwords and principles of ‘least privilege’ required to perform a job should be adopted (Merkow &Breithaupt , 2005). Further, keeping
up with industry standards, TKU should consider moving away from using social security numbers for identification.
This paper begins by discussing the importance of using case studies as a pedagogical approach.
It is noted that the majority of data breaches since 2005 occur in educational institutions. Therefore, it is important to address this segment so that appropriate protections are in place. To this
end, Gartner research recommends the use of case studies in educational settings to improve the
security (Lowendahl et al., 2006). Accordingly, the case presented here deals with the issue of
data breach at a university. The events leading up to the breach and the subsequent analysis are
presented. In conclusion, the case demonstrates the security problems and proposes possible solutions in an educational setting.
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Barra, R., McLeod, A., Savage, A., & Simkin, M.G. (2010). Passwords: Do user preferences and website
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Dr. Ramakrishna Ayyagari is an Assistant Professor in Information
Systems at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He earned his
doctorate in management from Clemson University. His work has been
published or forthcoming in outlets such as MIS Quarterly, European
Journal of Information Systems, Journal of the AIS, Decision Sciences,
and the proceedings of various conferences.
Jonathan Tyks has been employed in the Information Technology
field for over ten years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Management
Information Systems from Bridgewater State University and an MBA
from The University of Massachusetts at Boston. He currently resides
in Boston, MA.
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