LINCOLN — Computer technology is a wondrous advancement — unless a hacker manages to get your Social Security number and banking information and bleeds your savings account dry.

Leaders of the University of Nebraska system’s information technology department pledged Friday to the Board of Regents to try to protect the data belonging to the university and its users.

But those leaders also declined to boast, for fear of inviting hacking and breaching cockroaches.

“We don’t want to suggest we have it figured out,” Bret Blackman, vice president of information technology for NU, said in an interview. “Because nobody does.”

One needs only to glance at the news to find accounts of big companies’ systems being hacked or breached. Capital One. Home Depot. Target. Yahoo. Equifax. Marriott.

And yet it’s essential to use the technology.

“The option of not being on the Internet is not an option,” Blackman said. “The world is there.”

The defense has to be stiff, Blackman said, because the number of attacks on systems is shocking. He said NU’s information security efforts block 9.94 million attacks daily. Many of those are automatically launched by a keystroke from one hacker.

“Every organization is facing the same challenges,” Blackman said. The fact that most of the NU system campuses work together provides better scale and support and equalizes security services, he said. (The University of Nebraska Medical Center isn’t part of the NU-wide security network.)

“We’re pretty protected,” said Rick Haugerud, assistant vice president for information technology. The goal, he said in an interview, is “to find the holes before the bad guys do.”

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Most hackers are “looking for the low-hanging fruit,” he said, so it’s wise to put up the strongest walls and defenses an organization knows how to erect.

The threat is “very real” for NU, Blackman said, just as it is for other organizations. The bad actors, he said, “are getting better every day.” That means that Blackman and his staffers must get better every day, too.

Blackman said the university has 22 info security staff members, eight student workers and two interns.

Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln said that “seems like very few people to cover all the depth and breadth” of security. Nobody disagreed.

In other action, the regents:

  • Heard the Dear UNL group tell the board for the third time this year that UNL’s Title IX office for sexual violence investigations needs improvement. Dear UNL is a group of sexual violence survivors and their supporters.
  • Approved a master’s degree in data science to be offered by the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
  • Said yes to UNMC’s payout of $415,000 for property at 510 S. 39th St. in Omaha.
  • Gave the nod to refinancing facilities bonds to take advantage of low interest rates. NU administrators said this could save NU at least $8 million.

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rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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