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VeriSign Goes to School

Officials at VeriSign announced a new program for universities with security issues Tuesday, offering discounts to institutional members of Educause.

The Mountain View, Calif., IT services company is providing the non-profit organization discounts on its managed PKI service for authenticated user provisioning and digital certificates.

The service is available through Educause's Identity Management Services Program (IMSP), which provides colleges and universities with identity management services at cut-rate prices.

Educause officials were not available at press time to talk about their program and the extent of the discount available to its institutional members.

George Schu, VeriSign vice president of strategic development, said university networks are typically very open, a reflection of the open culture at these institutions of higher learning. The trade off, however, is they are subject to more cybercrime issues.

Universities that do institute security solutions, as they increasingly must, are finding it's costly to implement, he said.

"The fact is, trying to do it in-house at a university is very costly because the investment in the infrastructure, the training to run that service and keeping pace with the development of PKI is very hard to do," he said. "They found that out, I don't want to say the hard way, but they have real experience in discovering that fact."

Data theft and hacks are becoming an all-too-common occurrence. The past year has seen a growing number of reported data compromises, notably with data broker ChoicePoint and financial giant Bank of America.

The breaches have attracted Congressional scrutiny with government officials calling for tougher protection standards and disclosure from vendors who keep track of private information.

Learning institutions can also be greatly affected by security breaches.

According to figures presented by VerSign officials from an October 2004 report by Gartner Research, universities and colleges have proven to be attractive targets for malicious hackers. The report shows 53 percent of those polled said they had experienced a denial of service attack . Nearly half, or 41 percent, reported their systems were compromised while 14 percent reported unauthorized access to student information data.

Depending on the size of the school, these hacks can lead to a large amount of compromised data.

Last month the University of South California (USC) reported 270,000 online applications were exposed after someone broke into the database in June. Information on those applications included names and their social security numbers.

In March, Boston College purged the social security numbers of its alumni from a database after network administrators discovered a hacker had broke into one of its on-campus systems.

VeriSign officials said they are offering other IT security programs in its security portfolio, including its managed security and unified authentication services, through Educause, but not at a discounted rate.