University of Lewis: What can be learned from the outside?

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Located near the village of Romeoville, Illinois, just 62 miles south-east of Chicago, Lewis University is a small Catholic and LaSallian University. It sits on green grounds of 410 acres and has a storied history stretching back to its establishment in 1932. Several satellite campuses found in Hickory Hills, Oak Brook, Tinley Park, Illinois, and Albuquerque, New Mexico ('About Us') are also available at the university. That is the introduction to someone from the outside world that the university offers on its main campus webpage. This is not from many other universities and colleges across the United States that are seeking to draw new students to their campuses. These days, transparency is a watchword in public organizations and government agencies.  All the programs, policies and other administrative data for an organization are freely available to anyone who has an interest in knowing that information.  Although transparency is an asset to an organization, it can also be a detriment if the wrong kinds of information are freely shared for anyone to see.  Transparency, therefore, can be thought of as a two-way street.  Not only is an organization being compliant by sharing information about itself, but it is also providing intelligence information to potential adversaries about some of its most sensitive operational data.  Even though transparency is a watchword for public organizations today, too much information sharing can be a bad thing because providing information on the operations of an organization gives adversaries vital insights and this information can be used to find weaknesses to exploit.

This writer found some very good points working in Lewis University’s favor regarding the collection of intelligence.  The Google Car®, a vehicle which Google uses to make visual records utilizing multiple cameras mounted on the vehicle along roadways in the United States and around the world, was not allowed access to drive around campus in August 2008. Instead it was made to turn around and exit the campus (Google Maps).  This may have been an administrative oversight (not letting the guard on duty know that the car was given access) or it could have been a prohibitory action taken by the administration to deny access to the Google Car.  This action denied anyone who might plan to do harm on campus access to a visual record of the campus to use in planning any untoward activities.  Another point found in Lewis’ favor from a security standpoint, was the fact that the main entrance has a long, straight approach road which allows the guard on duty an unfettered view of any approaching vehicle.  Additionally, as vehicles approach the guard house there is a camera mounted in such a way as to capture the vehicle’s license plate as it enters campus.  This system is likely integrated with a capture system that can isolate and identify vehicles that may be flagged in law enforcement databases in the surrounding areas. 

Upon examining the university’s website more closely, it was noted that Lewis University has an excellent system of security practices in place.  Lewis University has a well-developed Emergency Action Plan, Sexual Conduct Code and Alcohol Policy to protect students, faculty, and staff in any of these situations.  The university also boasts excellent Community Alert Systems which can be used to alert students, faculty, and staff in case of emergency or other such instances which arise on campus.  Information on the Lewis University safety and security operations were readily available on their website, and public records of police activity were also available in archive format.  This characteristic, sometimes known as a “police blotter” lists the calls that Lewis University Police was dispatched to investigate or follow up on.  From an intelligence standpoint, the police blotter provides an overview of some of the more intimate problems which are encountered on campus.  For example, most recently, in March 2017, the police blotter listed an incident on March 3rd where two Lewis University students were investigated for having drawn a swastika (Nazi symbol) on the white board of another student’s room door.  On the afternoon of that same day, another swastika was found drawn on a white board in the university’s main campus office building.  The perpetrators of this incident were not immediately identified in the blotter, and the case is listed as “pending investigation.” (“2015 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.”).  These incidents may seem at face value to be innocent pranks, but they also could be indicative of racial or ethnic tensions on campus which could be exploited by an outside entity for any of several nefarious purposes.  Another incident which raises the question of possible intelligence gathering activity occurred on March 17th when a female student reported anonymously via the campus’ “Silent Witness” system that she had been followed from Target back to campus by an unknown person (“2015 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.”).  Once again, this incident could have been no more a figment of the female student’s imagination, someone else innocently going in the same direction at the same time, but it also could represent stalking or a following for some other purpose such as gathering information on this female student’s activities in preparation for a more sinister reason. 

These “sinister reasons” may include a popular form of web use today, the social media site.  Intelligence gathering often occurs in stages.  For our purposes, we will assume that someone is trying to gather intelligence on a Lewis University student, faculty or staff member for some evil purpose.  After visiting the Lewis University website and doing a little digging, a target might appear.  It could be a student, faculty or staff member.  Whoever it may be, once the intelligence seeker has the person’s name, they can begin a social media search for that person.  These days, with the multitude of social media websites and individuals’ participation in one or more of them, it is highly likely that a simple name and location search would turn up narrowed list of potential targets at Lewis University.   As Chauhan & Panda explain “Most of the social media sites provide some kind of search functionality to allow us to search for things or people we are interested in. These functionalities, if used in a bit smarter way, can be used to collect hidden or indirect but important information due to structural storage of user data in these social media.”  This is where someone who is gathering intelligence on a target of interest comes in well-armed.  Most young people have at least one, if not multiple profiles, on social media sites.  Add to this fact, young people, as well as some older ones, are not very careful about what information they post online, and you get a situation where someone who is covertly gathering intelligence is in an advantageous position. 

Another electronic medium on the Internet that can be used to gather intelligence is the weblog, or Blog as they are more commonly known.  Blogs started out as public diaries of a person’s life but have expanded today to include corporate blogs, commercial blogs, and personal blogs with a theme.  As Chauhan & Panda note, “Blogs reveal a lot about not just the topic written about, but also about its author. In many job applications, it is desired to have a blog for the applicant as it can be used to understand his/her basic psychological profile, communication skills, command over the language, etc.”  All this information could be potentially interesting to someone collecting intelligence on a target.  Putting this into perspective for the Lewis University scenario, it would be very simple for an intelligence gatherer to get access to a public blog belonging to a student or a faculty or staff member and be able to gather a plethora of intelligence on a target of interest.    

As indicated in this essay, information sharing is a hallmark of today’s society. Transparency in government and other organizations has become not just a request, but a demand of the public which it serves.  However, too much of a good thing is not always good for individuals.  As this pertains to the situation at Lewis University, this writer believes that the university is doing its part to keep students, faculty, and staff at the University as safe as can be expected.  Regarding the Internet, however, it is up to everyone who attends Lewis University to be aware of their own cyber security and take a good long look at what they publish online for all the world to see. 

References

Chauhan, Sudhanshu, and Nutan Kumar Panda. (2015). "Chapter 2 - Open Source Intelligence and Advanced Social Media Search". Hacking Web Intelligence: Open Source Intelligence and Web Reconnaissance Concepts and Techniques. Syngress Publishing, © 2015. Books24x7. Web. Apr. 30, 2017. http://common.books24x7.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/toc.aspx?bookid=88814

Google Maps. “University Pkwy Romeoville, IL.” Google Maps website. https://www.google.com/maps/@41.6055612,-88.0757728,3a,75y,270h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s_HcWH5aUQv6oIACs45mSsQ!2e0!7i3328!8i1664. Retrieved on April 29, 2017.

Lewis University. “About Us.” Lewis University website.  http://lewisu.edu/welcome/facts.htm. Retrieved on April 29, 2017.

Lewis University. “2015 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.” Lewis University website. http://www.lewisu.edu/studentservices/security/campuscrime.htm. Retrieved on April 29, 2017.

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