1. Introduction

UT Austin has issued rules for all researchers to ensure that sensitive digital research data is appropriately protected. Protecting this important data requires a commonsense approach to managing your computer systems. You need to be aware of common vulnerabilities and then take some not-too-extraordinary steps to shield those vulnerable areas. The university has many people and tools available to support you in making this happen so you can go about your business.
Why should you take the time to secure your digital data? It's part of being a responsible researcher, just like using appropriate protocols and protecting human subjects. Your reputation and your funding are on the line. If your data is compromised, your research could be called into question. Following the university's new rules for protecting sensitive digital research data will help ensure the security of the systems involved and will help safeguard the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive digital research data.
You are responsible for:
  • Classifying your digital research data appropriately.
  • Based on the classification of data, protecting the systems where the data is stored and how you transmit that data. This includes controlling how it is accessed and by whom.

2. Required Practices

Apply these basic practices to all systems.
Classify your digital research data according to the Data Classification Standard. The guidelines define the three levels of data classification, show you examples of how data can be at risk, and discuss the consequences of a data theft or system compromise. If you have Confidential data, you are responsible for implementing the appropriate steps from the Minimum Security Standards for Systems.
  • Ensure that you have installed anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software.
  • Set your operating systems, security programs, and all other applications to check for updates regularly.
  • Use secure services and applications when you are on any network, including:
    • Application-level security, such as HTTPS, SSH, and secure FTP.
    • The VPN when connecting to campus resources from off-campus. This protects your data between the off-site area and the campus network.
  • Be a good data steward of Confidential research data.
  • Identify professional personnel to manage research servers and IT resources. These experienced individuals can help you successfully comply with the minimum standards, including implementing such important practices as encrypting data and backing it up regularly. Check with your department's IT personnel or ask about centralized support from campus fleet management services.
  • Restrict virtual access to your data by using EID-based authentication to access computer systems, databases, Web applications, and more. You can also contact ITS for programming assistance if you do not have programmers available in your area.
  • Ensure physical security for your systems
  • You take precautions with your data and those precautions should extend to the information you store on your Smartphone.
    • Activate the encryption function on supported versions of Apple iOS, Blackberry OS and Android.

3. Information for Technical Staff

Technical staff play an important role in protecting sensitive digital research data. The Information Security Office has tools and services that can help you support the researchers in your area implement the security practices that are essential on our campus.
Familiarize yourself with the Information Resources Use and Security Policy. This document outlines requirements for many aspects of security systems. The policy also includes many supporting documents that provide specific details.
To see specific requirements and recommendations for systems storing Confidential, Controlled, or Published data, please see the Minimum Security Standards for Systems.
The Server Hardening Checklists provide specific steps you should take to secure your servers. They reference the requirement in the Minimum Security Standards for Systems, provide notes about information specific to the university, and link to the Center for Internet Security documents for the relevant operating system.
E-mail the Information Security Office at security@utexas.edu if you have any questions or need more information.

4. Revision History

Revision History
 6/26/2023Reviewed and fixed broken links 
 6/24/2013Reviewed and fixed broken links 
 6/21/2013Converted back to HTML 
Protecting Sensitive Digital Research Data.docx7/11/2011Converted web page to PDF 

5. Approvals

Cam Beasley  Chief Information Security Officer