Steps taken to protect information on college computers

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(Host) The chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges says steps are being taken to clear sensitive information from college computers.

The move comes in response to the theft of a laptop that contained social security numbers and other information about nearly 20,000 past and present students and employees.

Chancellor Robert Clarke also says the appropriate steps have been taken to inform people whose information might have been on the stolen computer.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Last November a new policy went into effect at the state colleges that forbids the storing of sensitive personal information on college computers. Instead, the data is kept on a secure central server. But the personal information that was on the stolen laptop was put there before the policy was adopted. The computer was taken from a college employee’s locked car.

Vermont State College Chancellor Robert Clarke says the colleges are now in the process of removing sensitive personal data that may have been placed any of their computers at any time.

(Clarke) “We have informed all employees that all sensitive information must be deleted from all laptops and all desktops.”

(Zind) In statements issued since the theft was announced two weeks ago, college officials have stressed that so far there’s no indication the information contained on the computer has been used for identity theft or other illegal activities. Clarke says Vermont State Colleges are taking the theft seriously, but he believes there’s little risk the information will fall into the wrong hands.

(Clarke) “We’ve talked with professionals across the country who deal with these types of issues and they say that 99.% of the incidents of this type are individuals who are stealing the computer for computer use. They have no idea or concern about what the information is.”

(Zind) There have been questions about why college officials waited three weeks before they announced the theft. Clarke says it took that long to determine what data the laptop contained.

(Clarke) “Could we have done it differently? Probably. Was there any cover-up? No.”

(Zind) As for why an employee took the computer on a vacation trip to Montreal

(Clarke) “It was a very dedicated employee who was working and checking their email every day while they were on their vacation.”

(Zind) Because the college can’t know exactly whose information was on the stolen computer, it’s sent notices to 50,000 people. The mailing cost almost $17,000. Clarke says all college faculty and staff will receive training on computer security.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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