Keeping Information Secure: Easy Steps for Non-Experts

Post by Addye Buckley-Burnell, Assistant Director of Career Development, Auburn University Career Center

may15_b.5Protecting our identity and private information is nothing new and we tell our students to be careful every day. With the influx of reports of system wide hacking/breaches in every industry costing in the millions to correct, universities and employers alike need to do more to keep our information secure. As a counselor, I follow ACA guidelines to protect client files, but these standards are often more complicated when it comes to working in a university career center. Also, the guidelines do not adapt as quickly as technology advances. Let’s face it; we all can do more to prevent private information from getting into the wrong hands while protecting our own behinds as well. Here are a few easy things that have been suggested by the Auburn University Office of Information Technology and additional security training. Now I am no tech guru, but even I can follow these simple steps.


Edward Snowden advised in a recent interview with John Oliver to be very careful with passwords. We all know how difficult it is to come up with passwords that meet the requirements of many of the systems…ahem, Symplicity, ahem…but some general rules will make it more difficult for someone/a program, to determine your password.

  • Use a pass phrase instead of a single word to make it easier to remember but difficult to guess – example: Auburnstudentsare100%awesome
  • Essential to be over 8 characters in length
  • Should contain at least one uppercase letter, one number and one symbol if possible and not just at the end


I am sure we all know not to send private information via email, but sometimes there is some grey area here. Anything pertaining to personal identifiable information that could be used in any malicious way should be sent in an encrypted document and attached to the email. You will want to send the password used for the encryption in a separate email to be extra careful.

This is easy to do using Microsoft Office products by using the File tab > Info> Protect Document > Encrypt with Password. CAUTION: you will be asked to enter a password twice which is not retrievable if forgotten so write it down!


Your university/company is likely backing up all email to the server on a routine basis, so it is best to erase any emails containing private or personal information after reading them.


Lock your computers when you leave your desk to avoid any malicious attempts at accessing your files and student data. The shortcut to do this on a PC is Windows Key + L and on Mac is Control + Shift + Power.

Avoid saving private information to your computers and empty your recycling bin on your computer regularly as well since these items are also able to be accessed if hacked.

Love it or hate it, we all have constant access to information at the palm of our hand. This is a prime place for security breaches so be sure to use a password/finger print to protect all devices that have access to your work emails. When you stop using the device or if it is stolen, wipe the device to avoid this information getting in the wrong hands. This can be done without the phone for Outlook using the web-based site by:


Also, avoid using public access WIFI when inputting any passwords or accessing sensitive information. All devices should also have an active antivirus software in place.

Sessions via distance:

We all know how popular it has become to offer services via distance and how tempting it is to use Skype for these services. Unfortunately, Skype saves records of all recordings and these records are readily handed over when requested by officials. To maintain confidentiality it has been recommended to use either FaceTime for Mac users or VSee to host these sessions as they do not save records of the sessions.

These are just a few of the many ways to protect student privacy and our own personal information. If you have any others tips, please share them in the comments section.

contributor_abuckleyburnell Addye Buckley-Burnell serves as the Assistant Director of Career Development for the Auburn University Career Center, leading a team of highly skilled and motivated career counselors and is charged with the formal assessment of the office. Addye is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor, and Distance Credentialed Counselor with experience in a variety of counseling areas including mental health, academic and career. In addition to her work with individual students, Addye teaches a variety of courses including a job search/career-life planning class both on-campus and via distance education.


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