Data security moving forward

Zach Clemens

As the second week of fall classes gets into full swing, Iowa State’s Information Technology department is hard at work encrypting all university-owned laptops by the end of the year. This is an important goal to meet, as it is part of Iowa State’s six-point plan, laid out in April 2014, to increase data security for the university’s faculty and staff.

“We all want to protect students, staff, and faculty data from falling into the wrong hands,” Michael Lohrbach said in a statement.

Lohrbach is the director of Infrastructure and Shared Services and is a member of the Information Technology Leadership Committee, which is overseeing the initiative to encrypt all university laptops.

“It’s an important security measure for the university,” Lohrbach said. “Nov. 31, 2015 is a good initial deadline, as we have a hard deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. We have a plan in place that will account for encryption of all laptops by Dec. 31.”

Faculty and staff use different types of data and files that need protecting. Encryption provides this by protecting the entire device not just certain files.

The process will “encrypt everything on the device,” said Andrew Weisskopf, information security officer for Iowa State. 

If your computer is stolen, then encryption will help minimize the loss. “If your laptop is not encrypted, anyone can read everything that’s on it,” Weisskopf said. “It doesn’t matter if you have a password. Passwords slow me down by about 30 seconds.”

If an unencrypted laptop is stolen, it can be a big issue. 

“Several hundred hours of staff time go into just one,” Weisskopf said.

Backups of the device need to be located and examined, anyone who had personal data on it will have to be contacted and even the state attorney general might have to be notified.  There is no worry of breached data with encryption; no one will be able to read it without a specific recovery key given when setting up the laptop encryption.

The entire process is relatively easy. It generally takes 15-20 minutes to get the encryption started, and the computer can still be used once it starts encrypting. The whole process takes between 12-24 hours to complete depending on the age of the laptop.

This is a university-wide effort to get all laptops encrypted by the deadline.

Lohrbach says faculty and staff should contact their respective technology team to get encrypted. IT staff will also be reaching out to faculty and staff members who have unencrypted devices. There will also be select days when IT staff will be available at different campus locations for staff to drop by and get the encryption started. 

Most want to protect their personal data, and encryption of a computer is a way to ensure that data will be secure even if a laptop is lost or stolen. If you do have a laptop encrypted, remember to always have backups of data and to keep the recovery key in a safe place.