Universities have earned something of a reputation over the years for having poor information security controls. Jinx Walton is on a mission to erase that perception, at least at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is director of computing services and systems development.
Since the fall of 2007, Walton has been spearheading a major initiative to centralize the university's e-mail, Web services and network firewall operations as part of an effort to bolster security in those environments. Under the plan, e-mail and Web servers from more than 100 locations across the university are being brought into a central network operations facility. There, they will be managed by the university's central IT staff. Such centralization makes it considerably easier to manage and secure those crucial services, Walton says.
The project is expected to be completed next year, but it has already started to show results. Prior to the centralization effort, Walton says, there were a number of security incidents in which Web sites and e-mail servers were compromised. "That has almost completely been eliminated," she notes.
Pulling together the centralization effort hasn't been especially easy. Universities typically have to walk a fine line between maintaining relatively open access to information while also ensuring a reasonable level of security. Striking the right balance is often "the biggest challenge with security in a university environment," Walton says.
Her approach to the problem has been to try to encourage students, faculty and staff to opt in for better security controls rather than imposing controls on them. A page on the university's Web portal called "Secure Your Data" offers advice and free tools that students and faculty can use to better protect themselves against security threats.
"One of Jinx's strengths is that she certainly understands the university environment," says Debbie Pratt, former CIO and now liaison for technology services at the university. "She has the ability to work with the organization and focus on the things that need attention."
Walton's vision to bring together the university's e-mail system, Web servers and firewall infrastructure has been very important, Pratt says, adding, "I think she is very clear on where we are going and what our goal is."