University Web Developers

University Web Developers

Personally Identifiable Information - What are you doing to protect this?

Hello All,
A lot of discussion has been brought regarding the protection of personal information such as SSN, grades, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers etc. Some, if not all of this data is called Personally Identifiable Information (PII) my question is: what are you, as a web developer in your college, doing to ensure that such data is protected and or controlled? I am sure many of you have been asked to develop applications that ask for some of this data... what do you do to protect it?

Does your college have someone in charge of this?

Does your college run scans to find such data in its network?

thanks for you your feedback and ideas!


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I am in rather a unique situation being the primary full-time Web professional and also Information Security Coordinator for the campus.

The first general theme is to keep PII as far away from the public Web site as possible. When we have a need to ask for Student ID, we prohibit the use of SSN (one of the few places it won't work). Web server cannot directly query our ERP / Student Information System database (Banner for us). Where information is shared, it gets pushed to the Web server.

Whenever we do write an app that accesses our ERP, we generally do that on a separate server from our public Web site. This server is locked down more tightly, monitored more closely, and is dedicated to that particular use. More often than not, these applications are written as much as possible inside the Web-facing application access for the Student body, faculty, etc.

General application security follows. Scrub data to prevent SQL injection (i.e. mysql_real_escape_string() in PHP), use encryption where PII might be submitted or accessed, make sure you password-protect administrative functions, and make sure those functions always check for authorization.

There is an Apache mod available that would log sensitive information conveyed off your server called mod_security IIRC. It's worth looking into (and regularly monitoring) if you have a server that has access to this information.

We are investigating monitoring all College computers for sensitive information, but are limited now by complexity, staff and financial resource availability. There are some free tools available to scan individual computers, and corporate tools that would report "hits" back to a central repository for action. We're also looking into full-disk encryption on laptops. And we're looking not just at electronic files, but paper ones as well.

And generally speaking the payment card industry's data security standard doesn't encourage you to store CC numbers at all. If I were you, I'd look into reengineering processes to ensure that you don't keep the data around any longer than absolutely necessary to process those kinds of requests...

Hi Steve,
Thank you for your comments and ideas. We follow similar procedures when dealing with application development. What does your college do in regards to discovering systems that have PII? do you have any policies or procedures set in place to manage such found information?

The University of Arizona has a highly comprehensive process for managing such information documented on their web site ( UA has also made sure to place the responsibility of managing and securing such data on the individual user WITH support and assistance from the IT managers. UA also encourages users to download and use Spider as their main finder tool. Carnegie Mellon University follows a very similar model ( but uses a different software to find such data (

Thanks again!




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