COCC is one of the few community colleges in Oregon with staff dedicated to fighting hackers
“A dog in our front yard”
In May 2011, a cyberattack from China shut down cocc.edu for four days. Central Oregon Community College’s Information Technology department still doesn’t know if any important information was stolen, according to Dan Cecchini, IT director at COCC.
“There’s a good chance that nothing was taken,” Cecchini said, “[but] we don’t really know.”
This attack made administration at COCC realize that the technology security bar at the college was not set high enough.
Community colleges process sensitive information for thousands of students and yet no two-year colleges in Oregon have a staff member dedicated to keeping information safe except Portland Community College and now COCC, according to Cecchini.
The information security administrator position at COCC IT was created after the 2011 hack. The position makes hackers think twice about attacking COCC, according to Cecchini.
“If you’re out there and you’re a hacker, it’s the equivalent of having a dog in our front yard,” Cecchini said. “There’s always a risk of getting hacked, but we’ll be a much less appealing target.”
Wesley Dymond is that dog in the front yard. As information security administrator at COCC, Dymond is constantly protecting and monitoring COCC’s servers to make sure an attack could be met before real damage is done.
“The rest of our department is aware of security but they don’t have time to use best practices,” Cecchini said. “They don’t have the time to go look at every detail. … Now, instead of reactive, we’re being proactive.”
What do hackers want from community colleges?
The prime target for hackers is the Bobcat Web Account, also called the Banner, where students put in their 820 numbers, zip codes, emails and social security numbers.
“My job is to stop someone, say, opening a credit card in your name,” Dymond said.
Dymond makes sure that routine security patches are applied to software at COCC, and that the servers are as protected as they can be. He is currently looking into acquiring software that would essentially make a “forcefield” around the Banner.
“It protects what can go in and go out of the database,” Dymond said. “It would also do database encryption, so even if [hackers] did steal information, it would be encrypted.”
Periodically, COCC hires “white hat hackers” to go up against their firewall and give an assessment of the strength of their security system. RedHawk Network Security is the company currently working with COCC.
When Dymond and the world discovered in April that the security bug dubbed Heartbleed had been leaking information for the past two years, Dymond was working to find out if COCC students had been impacted.
It turned out that 17 percent of COCC’s servers could have potentially been infected with Heartbleed, and Dymond worked quickly to install updated security patches.
“So, Saturday the world knew, Monday we found out, and Wednesday to Friday all that stuff was patched up,” Dymond said, “a proof that we audited the following week.”
Students need not worry, Dymond says, because all the sensitive student info that COCC has runs on Microsoft servers, and Microsoft servers weren’t vulnerable to Heartbleed.
Dymond’s job also concerns preparing contingencies for disasters like system outages or physical dangers to systems.
“This winter the IT department hosted a disaster recovery program,” Dymond said. “We have contingencies to keep running in the event of either a system disaster, a physical disaster such as a fire, or an electrical outage.”
Scott Greenstone | The Broadside