Student who disclosed breach to paper escapes expulsion

Adult adviser to Western Oregon Journal, on the other hand, didn't fare so well

A student at Western Oregon University who accidentally discovered a file containing personal data on a publicly accessible university server and then handed that data over to the student newspaper has narrowly escaped being expelled for his actions.

But a contracted adviser to the newspaper has been dismissed for allegedly mishandling the data and for failing to properly advise the students on the university's policies relating to handling of personally identifiable data.

Brian Loving, a student at WOU, stumbled upon a file containing the names, Social Security numbers and grade point averages of between 50 to 100 students on a publicly accessible university server in June. Loving downloaded a copy of what he discovered and handed it over to the Western Oregon Journal, the campus newspaper.

After making a copy of the file, the newspaper's editor and Loving then informed the university about the security breach. Though the paper's final publication date for the academic year had already passed, it decided to publish a four-page special report with an article describing Loving's discovery. No names of any of the students were published in the article.

The episode triggered an internal investigation at WOU. It also prompted campus officials to send IT staffers into the paper's closed newsroom and search newsroom computers for copies of the file that may have been stored in those systems.

Two months into the investigation, Loving -- who is now a staffer with the newspaper -- was found to have broken a university computer use policy that prohibits unauthorized people from accessing confidential files that may have been inadvertently placed in a publicly accessible location. On Sept. 28 he faced a disciplinary hearing over the incident.

Mark Weiss, the university executive vice president of finance and administration, on Wednesday cited student confidentiality and refused to describe the outcome of the hearing. But he denied that Loving had ever been expelled as a consequence for his action, as some local media outlets suggested.

Adviser adieu

Weiss also confirmed that Susan Wickstrom, who had been an adviser to students working at the newspaper, is no longer in that position since the university chose not to renew her contract. He did not say if the reason for the non-renewal had anything to do with Loving's security breach incident report.

A source at the university who wished to remain anonymous said that Wickstrom's contract was not renewed because of her failure to advice students against making copies of the exposed file and for her failure to advise them about the school relevant computer use policies.

"This was not a freedom of the press issue at all," Weiss said. The school newspaper should be able to write on any topic it wants to, he said. Similarly, "the issue is not that the student discovered a file that contained confidential information. For that we are grateful," said Weiss who also expressed gratitude to Loving for discovering a vulnerability the university had not been aware of up to that time.

Rather, the problem had to do with the manner in which the information was handled after it had been discovered, Weiss said.

"Once confidential information is discovered, we don't expect people to be downloading copies of that information and giving it to other people," he said. "He mishandled copies of the file," Weiss said of Loving. "People who know this shouldn't be done should be advising students on what the right thing to do is," he said in an apparent reference to Wickstrom.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?