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Kristen Cyr
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Security Awareness Day presenters
share ways to stay safe online

Nov. 1, 2013

Scott Brown of the FBI's Boston bureau speaks about how the agency integrates social media into its investigations. Scott Brown of the FBI's Boston bureau speaks about how the agency integrates social media into its investigations. See more photos from the event.

In the introductory remarks for the Community College of Rhode Island’s inaugural Security Awareness Day, an event spearheaded by college CIO Stephen Vieira and Director of Networking and Telecommunications Bruce Barrett to coincide with National Cyber Security Awareness Month, much was made of the exciting and changing times in which we live.

“Who could have imagined 40 years ago when the Internet became a reality that it could have had such an effect on our lives,” said President Ray Di Pasquale. “The impossible is now possible.”

But as Vieira mentioned (by way of Voltaire), “with great power comes great responsibility.” In the case of users of technology today, much of that power is handheld – smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices along with cloud computing in general have made high tech more permeable in addition to more powerful. Di Pasquale noted that of the 800,000 to 1 million attempted cyber attacks per day in Rhode Island, the number at the college is a staggering 1,000 per minute. “We’ve had 30 compromises in the past few months because people fall still fall victim to these attacks,” he said.

The responsibility that Vieira spoke of starts with attaining a greater awareness of some of these weak spots, as well as what the average user – not just the network administrators, but each individual person who logs on to a network, uses email or even posts a picture on his or her personal Facebook page – can do to avoid these pitfalls. That awareness was the theme of the day, which gathered more than 300 registrants from across IT, education, law enforcement and health care fields and throughout the public and private sectors. Barrett and Vieira used their connections to line up four general session addresses, followed by more specialized speakers for breakout sessions in the afternoon.

“This was an event that Bruce and I intended for all audiences; a community offering that provided knowledge about security, the various social media outlets and the data collected by each and how that is available to all,” said Vieira.

The hourlong morning sessions began with Rebecca Herold, CEO of the Privacy Professor, who delivered a thought-provoking talk titled “Where do you draw the creepy line? Privacy, big data analytics and the Internet of things.”

Herold quoted estimates that the amount of data created and passed around the Internet in the past few days alone dwarfs the amount of data created since 2003. “That’s a lot of data. And when talking about that data, you have to think about what it is pointing to and representing.”

While Herold’s talk certainly pointed toward the responsibilities resting on the shoulders of those collecting and storing data for their institutions – be they educational, financial, medical or otherwise – there was a certain warning implicit to each individual consumer (or creator, as the case may be) of this data. The idea that anonymity is even possible anymore seemed laughable after the presentation, wherein Herold peppered frightening anecdotes such as one about how one girl’s secret teenage pregnancy inadvertently was revealed to her father when Target’s marketing team automatically sent coupons for newborn sundries to the teen’s home. “People think about privacy in different ways. A lot of people think it’s just encryption. This isn’t the case,” she said.

Of much local interest was Scott G. Brown of the FBI’s Boston bureau, who spoke about how the FBI integrates social media into its investigations, and, by extension, how users of social media can better understand the vulnerabilities they might be creating in their lives – both on and offline – by using these services.

Brown, who is part of the task force assigned to the continuing investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings as well as part of the team that dealt with the false active shooter threat reported over social media last spring at the University of Rhode Island, spoke of how information revealed innocuously over sites such as LinkedIn or dating networks can lead to some very real problems, not just for individuals, but for the organizations for which they work.

“I want to give perspective on how these networks can and will be used against you … to raise awareness about over-sharing,” he said.

Brown paid particular attention to the world of higher education, where students and staff have access to a slew of mobile devices and social networks that can easily be infiltrated and combed for information. He noted that it was not his position to encourage or discourage any individuals from using any certain service, but rather to raise awareness of the dangers involved, and to point to the importance of self-monitoring online identity with searches on Pipl and other meta-crawlers, which he called “like Google on steroids.”

Vieira dubbed the event “a huge success, due to Bruce Barrett and the team of volunteers here at CCRI who worked hard to ensure that outcome.

“The speakers were all well-received … volumes of good information were shared and the candid and open manner in which the presentations were made created an atmosphere of collaboration and collegiality,” he said.

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Last Updated: 8/25/16