The Hazards of Portable Information

Laptops and flash drives make our lives easier in that they allow us to move information, files, and data from one place to another.  However, they open up a whole batch of security issues in terms of who could have access to the information stored on them.

Take, for example, these two incidents in Oregon detailed in an article in SC Magazine.  In one case a psychologist’s laptop was stolen from his car.  The laptop, which had a non-password protected CD in the disc drive, contained information on his patients that is protected by HIPAA as well as names and Social Security Numbers.

In the other case, an employee of Portland Community College was using a flash drive to transfer data between two different campuses when the bag it was in was stolen out of the car.  The flash drive (also known as a thumb drive) contained personal information, including Social Security Numbers, for people participating in a community college sponsored program for unemployed Oregon residents.

I get asked every so often about the feasibility of backing up data to a flash drive.  My answer is always that you can but that you probably shouldn’t.  The second story in the news article is a great example of why.  Flash drives are cheap and easy to transport and, as such, are easy to misplace, steal, or forget about entirely.  If you need to back up your files or data or need to transport it from one place to another, discuss your options with IS.  They’re bound to have a more secure way to do it.

And if you find yourself taking your work home on your laptop, take a second to think about what kind of information you have on there.  Personnel data?  Student grade information?  If the files on your laptop contain any data classified as Internal Restricted Data or Highly Sensitive Data as defined by University Policy then I suggest you take precautions to make sure your laptop stays as secure as possible.  And don’t leave it in your car.

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