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MIT reveals improved security plans, following threats in retaliation for the death of Aaron Swartz

Posted by Your Town  April 3, 2013 03:02 PM

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MIT has unveiled its plans to improve cyber security and emergency preparedness, following several hacks into the university’s network as well as reports of a hoax gunman on campus, which were allegedly in retaliation for the death of Aaron Swartz.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz sent a message to the university’s Academic Council on Tuesday, writing that the changes would “ensure the safety of our community and the integrity of our campus.”

In late February, the Globe reported that an unidentified caller made unfounded claims that a gunman was on the MIT campus. A few days after the incident, Ruiz wrote to the MIT community, confirming that the caller said the gunman was seeking revenge for Aaron Swartz’s suicide, and that the gunman intended to shoot MIT President Rafael Reif.

Ruiz acknowledged in his message following the incident that the university should have notified the MIT community about the incident in a more timely fashion.

“We should have alerted the community about the threat much more quickly and that the communication protocols we had in place did not meet the community’s reasonable expectations,” he said.

And in the weeks following Internet activist Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the MIT campus network was hacked a minimum of three times, and Swartz was mentioned in at least two of the attacks.

Swartz committed suicide in January, after a two-year legal battle in which he faced felony charges and a lengthy prison sentence. Swartz was accused of hacking into the JSTOR archive system on MIT's network, allegedly downloading more than 4 million articles, some of which were behind a paywall.

In Tuesday’s message, Ruiz said that MIT has “upgraded” its emergency-preparedness training program. Each department, center, and laboratory, will now have its own emergency coordinator, who will help to implement an individualized emergency plan.

He wrote that the university is also coordinating with housemasters of residence halls and the Office of the Dean for Student Life “to strengthen the safety of our students and enhance the preparedness of our dormitories and fraternities, sororities and independent living groups.”

Ruiz said the university has improved its “emergency communication protocols,” and the community will be alerted within minutes of an emergency situation. MIT is trying to expand its alert system to include all members of the community on all devices.

“We currently send text-message alerts to all Institute-owned mobile telephones and email to all MIT email addresses,” he wrote. “In addition, approximately 60 percent of our faculty, students and staff have elected to participate in MIT's alert program so that they may receive alerts through personal mobile telephones and email addresses.”

Frans Kaashoek, the technology domain expert for the Information Technology Governance Committee at MIT, guided efforts to strengthen the university’s cybersecurity. Revisions include tougher network traffic policies, as well as “stronger password quality and expiration” requirements.

“We have determined that we can modify practices to establish a higher level of resilience for our network while accommodating the needs of our faculty, students and staff,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz wrote that he is committed to safeguarding the MIT community.

“Together with our colleagues dedicated to campus safety and security, with the support of senior academic leadership and in collaboration with the campus community, we are deploying all necessary resources to this effort,” he said.

Katherine Landergan can be reached at For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

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