Repeat performance for AU: auditor general

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Athabasca University needs to beef up digital security, online disaster recovery plan

Athabasca University was once again admonished by Alberta’s watchdog for failing to deal with recommendations dating back to 2010.

The Auditor General of Alberta’s most recent report, released publicly in October, states that the university’s disaster recovery plan and facilities are lacking, as well as its ability to detect, assess and deal with digital security threats.

Athabasca University president Neil Fassina said the institution is making steps toward fixing the issues, and he hopes this is the last time the university will be mentioned in the Auditor Genera’s report for these issues.

“I know, when I first arrived at AU, the Auditor General’s report card was one of those pieces that became absolutely imperative to move towards resolution,” he said. “We initiated some work done, right away, to be able to move toward those two recommendations being taken off of the report card for Athabasca University.

“And so, while we weren’t able to put in place the pieces that would enable us to have those recommendations taken away in time for this year’s Auditor General cycle, I anticipate those pieces being in place for next year’s cycle,” he added.

Fassina said a big piece of the new disaster recovery plan includes working with Athabasca County to get backup servers running on the other side of the town.

“We have entered into a reciprocal partnership with the county of Athabasca to be able to, in essence, share server space or share server room space,” he said. “So we’re putting backup servers into their environment, and vice versa, so that we’re acting as each other’s disaster recovery space. And so there’s at least some geographic distance, obviously, between those two locations, which protects the county and protects us.”

Fassina also noted that the university is dealing with the second recommendation by deploying new network security topology, and new softwares and switches that can detect and stop any intrusions.

“We’re putting in piece the security protocols and tools that we also need to be able to have the Auditor General confident in the protection of our network,” he said.

“It’s one of those things – we have, actually, a very strong network architecture,” he added. “Our data is secure. It’s just making sure that we continue to stay in best practice moving forward.”

He also said a new vice-president information technology started Nov. 6.

Fassina said Jennifer Schaeffer has an “incredibly rich history” in digital strategy, with experience in private, semi-private and public sectors.

“Stretching all the way back to Wall Street, ATB to the University of Alberta, and now we’re thrilled to have her on our team, as well,” he said, adding that she will be based out of the Athabasca campus where she has a team of employees, with a drop-in space in the Edmonton north location.

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Allendria Brunjes

Allendria is the publisher of the Athabasca Advocate.