Information Security Policy

School of Physics, DRAFT v1.1.1, August 2003


The purpose of this policy is to provide requirements and specific recommendations for the protection of the School of Physics information technology resources and the information stored on those resources. Information security measures are intended to protect information assets and preserve the privacy of the Institute's employees, students, sponsors, suppliers, and other associated entities.

(NOTE: phrases which are shown in italics at their first occurrence in this document are defined in Section 9, Definitions.)


This policy applies to all divisions under the purview of the School of Physics (Physics). It covers all Physics information technology resources and information that is stored digitally using information technology covering past, present and future activities of Physics. All creation, processing, storage, communication, distribution, and disposal of Physics information in digital form is covered by this policy.

All employees of the School of Physics are bound by this policy as well as other Institute policies as terms of their employment. All students are bound by this policy in any of the following situations: (1) using Physics information technology resources or (2) using any information technology resources during Physics sanctioned events (e.g. classes, official study sessions). All employees and students share responsibility for the security of the information at the Georgia Institute of Technology and within Physics. If any conflicts arise between the Physics policy and the Institute Computer and Network Usage policy, this policy prevails.


Digital information is considered a School of Physics academic asset and must be appropriately evaluated and protected against all forms of unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, destruction, or denial. Information security controls must be sufficient to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, availability, accountability, and auditability of important information (the five components of information security). For the purposes of this policy, data and information technology resources owned by a sponsor or client but is being used by Physics, shall be considered "owned by Physics." Under Georgia Law some information may be required to be disclosed under the Open Records Act. If you are contacted to disclose information, please refer the request to GT Legal, notify your chair, director, or Chair, and ensure that GT Legal is notified of the request.

Each Physics division is required to determine the proper levels of protection for their information technology resources and information and to implement the necessary safeguards. All Physics employees are expected to cooperate in carrying out the provisions of this policy.

Information security controls must be applied in a manner consistent with the value of the information. More critical or sensitive information and information technology resources will require more stringent controls. This policy does NOT supersede the procedures for data categorization or access controls specified in the Institute's Data Access Policy ( Department of Defense (DoD) requirements for handling their classified information are detailed in a separate document.


All actual or suspected instances of information technology abuse or information asset theft, as well as potential threats (hacker activity, computer viruses/worms, natural disasters, evidence of forced entry, etc.), must be reported at once to departmental computer support or the Director in the affected division. Based on the seriousness of the situation, departmental computer support or the Director may report the incident to GT Information Security.

The departmental computer support or the Director will report serious, or potentially serious, breaches of information security to the Chair and the appropriate person(s) in GT Information Security, who is responsible for all coordination with local, State and Federal law enforcement authorities. The Institute's Computer and Network Usage Policy ( gives additional details of the reporting procedures and guidance for assessing the extent and seriousness of an information technology security breach.


The specific procedures and practices to implement this policy will vary by Physics division and with the importance of the information and resources being protected. Responsibilities for complying with these practices are listed in Section 6, and some recommended procedures are outlined in Section 8. Each division shall:

  • A. Limit access to information and communication systems solely to individuals authorized by the Director or his/her designee.
  • B. Protect all information technology resources (e.g. computers, communications, software, data) from theft, tampering, misuse, malicious software (e.g. viruses, worms, Trojan Horses), destruction, and loss.
  • C. The Chair, directors, and the departmental computer support must facilitate access to policies; however, employees and students are bound by this policy and other Institute policies as terms of their employment/attendance. (
  • D. Ensure individual and organizational accountability for the use and protection of information technology systems through the use of unique identifiers and authentication methods (e.g. userID/password, digital certificates, or biometrics).
  • E. Prohibit the sharing or unauthorized disclosure of passwords or other confidential access information (e.g. access phone numbers, codes, network information).
  • F. Require prompt notification per section 8.1.4 of changes in status (e.g. transfers, terminations, retirements) of employees, sponsors, or other users of Physics IT resources.
  • G. Control access to information based on criteria defined by the assigned data steward(s) as established in the Data Access Policy. (NOTE: this requires that all significant collections of information in Physics have a defined data steward).
  • H. Apply appropriate controls to ensure only authorized use of software and hardware that is designed for bypassing or breaking through information security measures and procedures. Ensure appropriate audit procedures are established to monitor for inappropriate use software and hardware that is capable of bypassing or breaking through information security measures and procedures.
  • I. As necessary, produce, review, follow up and retain audit trails of IT-security-relevant information for all systems that process and store Category 2 or Category 3 data as established in the Data Access Policy.
  • J. Regularly perform self-assessments and/or audits to detect security vulnerabilities and non-compliance with the Physics Information Security Policy and defined procedures.
  • K. Apply cryptography as appropriate to protect critical information which must be transmitted or stored on communication circuits and systems which are less secure than the usual Physics network and systems - for example, sent over the Internet or stored on laptops while traveling.
  • L. Ensure that IT resources are procured with the capability to use security features to help implement this policy, such as UserID/passwords, system integrity protection, auditability.
  • M. Maintain continued availability of business-critical IT resources and information through plans and procedures, such as for backup, recovery, redundancy, disaster planning, etc.
  • N. Define and apply information retention procedures that satisfy external and internal requirements. While defining and applying procedures to dispose of information that is no longer needed.


6.1 Employees and Students (as defined in section 9)

Each Physics employee and student is responsible for complying with the policies and procedures relating to information technology security and for fully cooperating with the IT staff to protect the IT resources of Physics and the Institute.

For purposes of this policy each employee and student must become familiar and comply with the Institute's Computer and Network Usage Policy located online:

Physics computer and communications systems must be used for business, teaching, or scholarly purposes only. Incidental personal use is permissible if the use does not consume more that a trivial amount of resources that could otherwise be used for business purposes and does not preempt any business activity or violate any law. Examples of permissible incidental use are-the occasional use of electronic mail (email) or web access for other than official purposes.

Activities such as loading unauthorized software on Physics systems, using Physics systems to access pornographic materials, and unauthorized downloading of copyrighted music, place the Institute at risk and are not permitted. Conduct in violation of this policy may result in sanction as provided in Section 7 of the Computer and Network Usage Policy. Report all actual or suspected instances of security or policy violations in accordance with Section 4 of this policy.

6.2 Physics Senior Management

Senior management of Physics is responsible for: 

  • A. Promulgating and enforcing the policies, standards, procedures, and guidelines for the protection of IT resources and information.
  • B. Appointing a Computer Support Representative, and providing appropriate funding, training, and resources to those people for information security-related tasks.
  • C. Applying sanctions consistent with Human Resources policies to individuals and department heads that break provisions of this policy, either willfully, accidentally, or through ignorance.
  • D. Designating Data Stewards for each significant collection of business, teaching, and scholarly information, who in turn are responsible for determining the value of their information and implementing appropriate security measures as specified in the Data Access Policy.
  • E. Furnishing funding and other resources or limiting and eliminating services to ensure continued compliance with this policy.
  • F. Sponsoring internal awareness and training programs to familiarize employees with the security policy, procedures and recommended practices.
  • G. Defining guidelines and intervals for each division to carry out periodic self-assessments to evaluate compliance with this policy and to identify potential risks to IT resources and information.
  • H. Document the unit's service models for both the services the unit offers to the Internet at-large, to the Campus networked community and internally to the unit; and the services the unit requires access to, from the Internet at-large (e.g. web access) and from the Campus network (e.g. email). This document must be prepared by Unit Directors and approved by the appropriate AVP.


This policy may be temporarily changed by directive of the Chair of the School of Physics for any reason, but typically in response to new types of threats or risks. Notice of the change in the policy must be distributed to all Physics divisions and computer support staff. The changes may not be extended over six (6) months without being submitted and approved formally through the GT Information Security policy change process.


Within this Section, the phrases "must" and "recommended" have specific meanings where highlighted in boldface. If a Physics division correctly adheres to the guidelines given as "must", then it can be considered as meeting the requirements for this policy. If they also adhere to the guidelines given as "recommended", then they can be considered to be meeting the "Level One" (minimum) requirements for information technology security generally promoted by many experts (reference: Fundamentals of Effective Network Security, SANS Institute, 1999 - ).

Recommendations for maintaining good security of information and IT resources can be divided into two broad areas: (1) People/Funding and (2) System/Network Management.

8.1 People/Funding

8.1.1 Departmental Computer Support

The Physics must have at least one non-student person who is designated as "departmental computer support". The support person(s) must have a combination of appropriate skill levels to correctly manage all of the different computers, operating systems, and application software in use within the unit. The unit may choose whether to "purchase" support from an outside individual, Physics unit or other organization, or to employ one or more people within the unit to provide the support. It is recommended that at least one person be funded full-time for each fifty (50) computers being supported (more staff may be required if the unit does not actively minimize technology diversity - see Section 8.2.1.). Students may be employed to assist in this effort, as long as at least one permanent employee with a technical background provides supervision and provisions are made for continuous coverage of the student position(s).

The person(s) designated as departmental computer support for the unit must have management support, funding, training, materials, and other resources as necessary to correctly manage the computers, printers, and other IT resources they support. NOTE that assigning insufficient resources in this effort creates risks of IT security compromises.

8.1.2 Information Security Staff

Each division within Physics must appoint at least one non-student permanent employee who has the responsibility for security of information technology resources within that unit. The division may choose whether to "purchase" this role from an outside individual or Physics division, or to employ one or more people within the division to meet this responsibility.

8.1.3 General Physics Faculty/Staff Security Responsibilities

The responsibilities for IT security of each person who uses any Physics IT resource must be communicated to them at, or immediately after, hiring. This should become part of Physics induction procedure for all new hires. This should be supplemented with periodic additional training. The following topics must include:

  • Password policy and how to choose good passwords.
  • Prohibition of unmanaged modems/remote access communication lines.
  • Defense against "social engineering" tactics to gain unauthorized access to systems.
  • Location and identity of their computer support staff, the Director/Manager for their division, and the GT Information Security office.
  • How to get access to this Policy on the web:
  • How to get access to the GT Computer and Network Usage Policy.
  • Recommendations about physical security (e.g., lock up your office when leaving, protect information on a portable when traveling).
  • Other topics as deemed necessary or timely by the Chair, division Director, or Chair or the newly hired person's departmental computer support.
  • Review the information security tutorial located online : (

8.1.4 Employee Termination and Clearance

The Physics must establish a procedure for confirming that division directors and their managers ensure that all access rights to Physics resources (information or physical) are revoked immediately upon any significant shift in job responsibilities (e.g. transfer between divisions within the Physics, transfers outside the Physics, retirement, termination, or reclassification). This policy recognizes that exceptions exist to this policy (e.g. retirees retain their e-mail address for mail forwarding as they deem appropriate).

8.2 System/Network Management

Every computer system in use by Physics must be managed in accordance with Physics established standards by a member of the departmental computer support or by a designated system administrator. These system administrators should receive appropriate security training and understand that their systems are subject to periodic audits by departmental computer support. Physics management and project managers should account for this need when planning budgets for projects and for internal computer support. "Management" authority of the system for security includes at least:

  • Physical access to the system at all times;
  • Ability to use the controlling account for the computer (e.g., "root" or "Administrator");
  • Authority to change the system configuration, reboot the system, and/or disconnect/connect the system to the GIT network as needed;
  • Authority to manage and view the system logs, security logs, user access logs, etc.
  • Installation or modification of system software or hardware

Networking technologies may be added to the GIT network only with the approval of the OIT authorized division or department.

In keeping with section 6.2, item h, all additions, modifications, or removal of network services (e.g. web servers, DNS servers, file servers) will be documented in a common point and receive approval senior level management or their appropriate designee. All new network services or major modifications to existing network services extending outside the Physics firewall must be certified via the service certification process.

Provisions must be made to allow emergency access to systems when the system administrator may not be available.

8.2.1 Minimize Technology Diversity:

Physics recognizes the need for a certain level of technology diversity to maintain and support appropriate scholarly knowledge and research. However, as the number of diverse systems increase, the cost and complexity of support increase. Therefore, to the greatest extent possible, the number of different brands, models, sizes, and versions of equipment, software, and operating systems should be minimized.

8.2.2 Apply Patches and Updates:

Departmental computer support must:

  • A. Monitor published information from the appropriate Georgia Tech mailing list and, where appropriate, various security sources and vendors related to security risks on the computer systems they support.
  • B. Download or purchase the appropriate vendor-recommended patches, updates, fixes, scripts, and so forth that will mitigate the reported security risks.
  • C. Apply the patch, script, update, etc. either on a regular basis or immediately, depending on the seriousness of the security threat, the category of the protected information, and the appropriate vendors' inputs.

8.2.3 Manage Access Control Information

Each IT system must have access control measures in place, such as unique user IDs and passwords for login to the computer and some level of physical security (e.g., all equipment behind locked doors during non-work hours). User IDs must be unique to the user and not shared, and that password formats and contents follow a strong password policy:

  • At least 6 characters (at least 8 characters where better security needed)
  • Not a "dictionary" word or a common proper name
  • At least one number or special character included
  • Passwords changed on a regular basis (at least every 90 days)
  • Passwords are not written down anywhere that is readily available during a casual search of a person's work area

It is recommended that, when necessary and possible, division management direct the departmental computer support to force compliance with the userID/password policy through features of the operating system(s) and with regular scans to find passwords that can be easily decoded.

All divisions within Physics must use a common "remote users" communications facility, to be professionally managed and supported, to meet the needs of Physics off-site users while maintaining good security. Where a division of the Physics determines that it must have an independent remote user communications facility, security measures equivalent in strength (to the common remote users' communication facility) must be applied to this access path. Such security may include stronger enforcement of the userID/password policy, possible restrictions on hours of availability, possible restrictions on permitted userIDs, and other measures as appropriate and feasible. An outsider with malicious intent who gains access to the network via this path can potentially access any node in Georgia Tech.

No unmanaged dial-in lines with modems are permitted within Physics. Each of these is potentially an open security hole for Physics and the entire GT campus.

8.2.4 Logon Banners

All computers and remote users communications facilities within Physics, if capable, must be configured to display a pre-logon banner, which explicitly states that unauthorized access is prohibited; the banner may optionally include a reference to the GT Computer and Network Usage Policy. GT Information Security shall determine the exact wording of the pre-logon banner, in consultation with GT Legal.

8.2.5 Connection and Port Control

All computers with a modern operating system are vulnerable to well-directed attempts to gain unauthorized access or to overload the computer in order to deny access to legitimate users. Success in these attempts often allows the attackers access to many other systems, both in Physics, the GT network, and even throughout the entire Internet community. The best defense against these intrusions or denial-of-service attacks is for a skilled and knowledgeable system administrator to keep the operating system and software up-to-date with patches and updates that defend against known security problems (See Section 8.2.2 above).

All Physics divisions must take some measures to deny intrusion, probing, and denial-of-service attempts through the network, such as:

Network connection/attack monitoring/anti-virus software; (

An effective and well-supported network-based firewall node(s) based upon the Service Model spreadsheet and unit-level policy.

Minimize the number of services, server programs, and available connection ports on every computer system.

Appropriate measures to apply will vary with the operating system and the degree of threat. It is recommended that the effectiveness of the steps taken be tested on a regular basis with a network-based vulnerability scanner (e.g. Internet Scanner, Nessus, CyberCop), and necessary improvements made in a timely manner. Consultation with the Computer Support Representative and GT Information Security is critical in this effort.

8.2.6 Virus/Worm Control

Due to the increasingly severe threat from viruses and worms, and the speed at which they spread, divisions of Physics must put in place measures to control them. Typical measures include installing and keeping updated a commercial software package (e.g., McAfee Anti-Virus) on every computer connected to the network or which receives email or runs software from the GIT network. To help with this effort, OIT maintains a site-license for anti-virus software. The same type of proactive efforts as outlined in Section 8.2.2., above, are recommended in order for the computer support staff to keep the anti-virus software updated and capable of stopping viruses and worms before they do damage to systems.( )

8.2.7 Ancillary Systems Backup and Disaster Recovery

In order to maintain the availability component of information security, each support division of Physics must have a system implemented, maintained, managed, and tested that duplicates and preserves business, research, and instructional-critical data. Depending on the importance of the information, some duplicate copies of the data may be kept "off-site", or preserved against physical damage from fire, water, theft, erasure, etc. A "system" includes hardware, software, and trained staff with known procedures to follow.

It is recommended that this system be regularly tested to ensure that the data can be recovered, starting from the assumption that the original data and the hardware on which it was stored is not available. At least one test is required when the system is implemented, and again when major components of the system change.

It is recommended that Physics have a practical IT disaster recovery plan created, and that all departmental computer support and in-division managers be familiar with this plan and in agreement about how it should be executed. The procedure for briefing a newly hired manager or departmental computer support person should include an overview of backup procedures and the disaster recovery plan, and a copy for their files.

8.2.8 Physical Security

Maintaining information security requires some measures of physical security as well; recommended measures include:

  • Major file and computing servers should be placed in limited-access room(s). At least one full copy of a system backup should be stored away from the system or off-site.
  • Network equipment and cable patch points should be placed in limited-access rooms, with only network-knowledgeable, authorized support staff permitted to work in those rooms.
  • Individual computers (generally for one person's use) should be in rooms that are locked during non-work hours.
  • Only departmental computer support should add or remove parts from a computer.

Computers physically accessible to more than one user should have password-protected screen savers enabled. Computers actively used by more than one person should be setup to maintain user accountability and auditability.

8.2.9 Accountability and Auditing

On systems which can have effective access controls (e.g. Windows NT/2000, UNIX), a login process should always be required which can potentially capture the userID of the person logging on and the time at which they logged on and off. "Autologin" procedures are discouraged. On systems where the security need is higher, the capture of this information should be enabled, and the audit log scanned on a regular basis. For remote user communication facilities, this information should always be captured and saved, and backed up for a defined period of time, and if possible, regularly analyzed for evidence of attempted security breaches.

On systems which contain more critical amounts or types of data, such as servers of any type, system auditing of major events must be enabled, and a regular scan of the audit files must be performed - manually or automatically - to detect unusual events. It is recommended that major system files be fingerprinted and the records stored on a secure system or media, for use in detecting intrusions and compromises (put procedures in place such that each upgrade or patch of the system causes another fingerprint to be taken and stored).


Availability - The percentage of time (compared to 100%) during which you can retrieve information when needed. Information can be unavailable due to destruction/erasure, system or network not working, or needed retrieval resources being overused.

Biometrics - The use of hardware and software to authenticate a person by measuring characteristics of their body, such as fingerprints, facial size and feature arrangement, handwriting style and speed, etc.

Confidentiality - The amount of confidence that information has not been disclosed to any person not authorized to view, copy, or distribute that specific information.

Cryptography - Using programs and measures to encode information such that it cannot be decoded and read without knowing an appropriate key - usually a user-selected key.

Data Access Policy - The Institution policy establish governing the categorization of data and the appropriate access controls required based on that categorization. (

Denial-of-Service Attack - A form of damage performed by malicious code, where the intent is to overload the target computer(s) or network resources such that legitimate users cannot effectively use the resources.

Department Computer Support - The person(s) in each department or from an external entity but funded by the division, designated to procure, install, inventory, troubleshoot, and otherwise manage the information technology resources of that lab or support group.

Digital Certificates - A high-security form of authentication - the exchange of short, encrypted files by the programs that are communicating, which serve to authenticate the client and server processes to each other. There is an entire system of organizations and protocols that work together to create, authenticate, revoke, and use digital certificates. The user of a computer typically allows the program(s) to use digital certificates by logging in to the system or program with a user ID/password.

Disaster Planning - Creating, implementing, and testing plans and procedures for the continuation of essential business operations even after a disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane, flood, extended power outage, terrorist incident, etc. Usually involves duplicated computing facilities, communications facilities, vendor agreements, employee procedures, etc.

Fingerprinting (of files) - Creating a mathematical summary of the file which is usually sufficient to detect any change to the file, but can be stored compactly (e.g. a hash or CRC of the entire file).

Employees - Faculty (as defined in the Faculty Handbook), classified employees (as defined by the Employee Handbook), and student employees.

Information Technology Resources - Computers, storage peripherals, network equipment and wiring, network-attached printers and fax machines.

Integrity - The amount of confidence that the information has not been modified in an unauthorized or incorrect way.

Limited-access room - A room that only a limited number of people possess keys to enter the room and authority to manage the IT equipment within the room.

Pre-logon banner - A message that is shown to the person attempting to login to a computer or communications facility BEFORE they are prompted to enter any authentication (user ID/password, biometrics, etc).

Read Access Group - The group of people allowed to read a given set of information. At least four (4) groups are defined for this Policy: OWNER ONLY, GTRI ONLY, GIT ONLY, and PUBLIC.

School of Physics (Physics) - The systems and personnel under the purview of the Chair of the School of Physics.

Senior Management - For the purposes of this policy, senior management consists of the Chair of the School of Physics and Directors as appropriate.

Social Engineering - The collective term for many tactics used by people attempting to break security measures of an organization by working with employees' or students' desire to be helpful or their ignorance of proper security measures. An example would be an intruder posing on the phone as a new system administrator or auditor, who asks for your user ID/password "to check security on a system."

Students - People enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology for academic pursuits.

Trojan Horse (program) - A program which consists of malicious code, but which is promoted as or appears to be a useful program, in order to trick an unsuspecting person into executing the program.

Virus - A fragment of code that is hidden within an executable program or system boot block, that when run by an unsuspecting user, replicates itself into other locations, and may optionally do damage to the information stored on the executing system.

Worm - A self-contained program that runs itself on a system, which replicates to other systems and may optionally do damage to the information stored on the executing system, or perform denial-of-service activities on the network(s) that the systems are attached into.