Privacy

UC Berkeley Community Offered Free Encryption Service

At least somebody is trying to make the best of the on-going cyber-privacy debate at the University of California Berkeley. VeriFyle, a company with an encryption service, has invited anybody with a Berkeley.edu email address to sign up for a free account.

The troubles — well documented by any number of media — began last summer when the University of California Los Angeles suffered a data breach affecting as many as 4.5 million people. In response, the UC System, currently headed by Janet Napolitano, the former director of Homeland Security, contracted for consulting from Fidelis Cybersecurity. Among the security company's recommendations: implementation of security tools intended to speed up the process of analyzing network traffic and capturing specific data in order to audit activities following future cyber attacks.

The problem was that UC leadership chose not to communicate the monitoring activities to faculty and, according to some reports, told security administrators to keep the installation of the monitoring program secret as well. The response at Berkeley, which considers itself a bastion of openness, wasn't good.

When they learned of the presence of the digital traffic monitoring hardware and software through unnamed members of the IT organization, faculty responded by publicly registering their complaints. "My primary concern is monitoring the private information of students and faculty in secret," said Eric Brewer, a professor of computer science, to a New York Times reporter. "I'm sure there's good intent. But I can't see a good reason for doing it."

VeriFyle has jumped into the fray by providing free access for Berkeley users to its online communication system.

"We believe everyone, including students, has a right to digital privacy and security," said CEO Jack Smith in a prepared statement. "No one should ever feel like their personal or professional communications are being monitored."

According to the company, once a user is logged into the system, he or she works through a "homescreen" to share documents or hold "conversations" with others. The transmissions are, the company noted on its site, protected by six levels of encryption.

The service is normally $9 per month. Berkeley students and faculty may sign up at verifyle.com/cal with their formal school email addresses.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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