Minimum Security Standards

Responsible Office: Information Services and TechnologyEffective Date: January 2011 / Revised: April 2017 (as Reviewed and Approved by ISBC Governance)

Purpose and Overview

Protecting University Data is a shared effort.  Individuals with access to University Data are responsible for accessing, storing, and processing data on systems that have appropriate security controls in place for the class of data.  Individuals should consult with IS&T and their local IT support groups to determine the best way to access, store, and use their data, particularly for more sensitive data.

This document defines the minimum security standards required for any Electronic Device (defined below) or cloud service that may be used to access, store or process (input, output, transmit, receive, display, calculate, etc.) Sensitive Information (defined below) owned or used by Boston University.


The data handling protections outlined in this document apply to all Electronic Devices and Cloud Services (defined below) used to access, store, or process Sensitive Information whether owned by Boston University or by a University employee or consultant and used to do University business. If you choose to use an Electronic Device you own (referred to herein as a “personal Electronic Device”; for example, a home computer, smart phone, or tablet) to access, store or process Sensitive Information, that Electronic Device is subject to these requirements. If you choose to use a cloud service that you have set up yourself (referred to as a “personal cloud service”; i.e., a service that has not been provisioned by the University), use of the service to access, store or process Sensitive Information belonging to BU is also subject to these requirements.

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS) includes more stringent requirements for systems handling credit card data than described herein. If you are handling credit card data in any way please contact Information Security to ensure that your systems meet the PCI-DSS requirements.

Systems that handle Protected Health Information (as defined under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)) are subject to HIPAA and must comply with all BU HIPAA Security and Privacy policies. If you are handling Protected Health Information in any way please contact BU Information Security to ensure that your systems meet the HIPAA and policy requirements.

Systems that handle ITAR or other export controlled information may be subject to other requirements. You may not have or store information subject to ITAR without a Technology Control Plan that has been approved by Research Compliance.  Contact Research Compliance for details.


“University Data” is information generated by or for, owned by, or otherwise in the possession of Boston University that is related to the University’s activities. University Data may exist in electronic or paper form and includes, but is not limited to, all academic, administrative, and research data, as well as the computing infrastructure and program code that support the business of Boston University.

“Sensitive Information” is University Data that is classified as Internal, Confidential, or Restricted Use. See the Data Classification Policy for definitions and examples of each of these classifications.

“Cloud Services” include any free or paid application, tool, or infrastructure made available by third parties wherein computing or storage resources are accessed via the Internet.

“Electronic Device” includes any device that is used to access, store or process data electronically. For example: a computer of any type (including a smart phone or iPad), a data storage device (including a USB device), a network device, a printer or copier that contains a storage device or that may be connected to a network.

“Encryption” is the process of converting human readable data (plain text) into data that cannot be read (cipher text) without knowledge of a specific secret (a key).  There are two types of encryption referenced in this document: encryption in transit and encryption at rest.  Encryption in transit refers to ensuring that all data sent over a network is encrypted, where encryption at rest refers to ensuring that all data written to disk or other permanent storage is encrypted.  While the encryption process and outcome may be the same, the tools and methods for achieving each type of encryption are different.

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Enterprise Services

IS&T is responsible for ensuring compliance of IS&T supported devices and services with this policy.  IS&T will provide guidance about the approved data classifications for each service.

Schools, Colleges, Units and Departments

The University’s schools, colleges, units, and departments are responsible for ensuring that the devices and services they provide to their communities or the University meet these minimum security standards, including specifying whether services are appropriate for each class of data.

Personal Responsibility

All BU faculty and staff are expected to be familiar with the Data Management Guide, Data Protection Requirements and Minimum Security Standards to ensure understanding of how to handle Confidential or Restricted Use information properly.

If you use a personal Electronic Device or a personal cloud service you are responsible for ensuring that your Electronic Device and/or personal cloud service meet the requirements below.

If you have questions, ask your supervisor, Departmental Security Administrator, or Information Security.

Restricted Use Data Registry

All services that collect, store, or provide Restricted Use data by design must be registered with Information Security by completing this online form.  All new services that collect, store, or provide Restricted Use data must be approved by Information Security.

Business Standards

Risk Based Controls

  • Kiosks and terminals intended for unauthenticated public use should not store any Sensitive Information.
  • Restricted Use data should only be stored on devices that are owned by the University or approved for such use by Information Security.
  • Systems storing Confidential or Restricted Use data should be managed by a designated, qualified systems administrator who is capable of properly meeting the configuration requirements or deploying and confirming appropriate compensating controls.

Systems Management

  • Procedures should be in place for securing downtime on short notice to deploy critical security patches, particularly for server systems.
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Cloud Services

Cloud Services include any free or paid application, tool, or infrastructure made available by third parties wherein computing or storage resources are accessed via the Internet.  The use of Cloud Services with University Data is governed by the Conditions of Use Policy, the Minimum Security Standards (this document) and other relevant University policies and procedures.

The following standards apply to the use of Cloud Services provided by or arranged for by, the University:

  • Services that will access, store or process Confidential or Restricted Use data should be evaluated by Information Security and the appropriate Data Trustee before use.
  • Cloud Services must provide an exit strategy that enables the University to retain its data and to remove all data from the cloud service.
  • The cloud provider must not mine, search, or index University Data for purposes other than those approved by the University.
  • Cloud providers that will store Confidential or Restricted Use data must document and contractually agree to implement strong physical access controls for their infrastructure.
  • The unit procuring the cloud services must understand where and how cloud services store data, including specific countries that data is, or could be, stored, replicated to, or routed through. Other countries may have requirements concerning access to data stored in or crossing their borders.
  • Cloud Services must implement access controls to ensure that data is not accessed by unauthorized users. For some Cloud Services this may include removing public/global read/view access.
  • The cloud provider must log all authentication attempts to provided services and be able to export the data if requested.
  • Restricted Use data must be encrypted at rest; other data should be encrypted where reasonable to do so.

Personal Cloud Services used for University Data

“Personal Cloud Service” is a subset of “Cloud Service” where the service is arranged for by an individual rather than the University for storing University Data, including the use of free services.

  • Confidential data should not be stored in Personal Cloud Services unless the service has been approved by Information Security and the appropriate Data Trustee.
  • Personal Cloud Services may not be used for Restricted Use data.
  • You must read and understand the terms of use, including whether the provider has access to your data and what it can do with the data. For example, the regular consumer version of Gmail scans your emails looking for keywords to better target advertising toward you, while the BU version of Gmail does not.
  • Understand how your data is protected, where (geographically) it is stored and how you might be able to get it back and erase the cloud copy in the event that you stop using the service.
  • Do not use your BU Kerberos password for Personal Cloud Services.

Endpoint Devices

An endpoint device is a system that is intended for direct human interaction.  By comparison, a server is intended to offer an application, storage, or other service and while it may be used directly by a human such use is not the norm.  In some cases both sets of standards may apply, and the more stringent standard should be used.

Note: If you are using an Electronic Device that you cannot configure or for which you cannot confirm is securely configured (such as a public kiosk computer or a computer in a hotel, for example), that device should not be used to conduct BU business.

Endpoint devices must meet the following requirements:

  • Use an operating system (Windows, Mac OS, supported versions of Linux, etc.) that is supported by a company who updates the operating system when security vulnerabilities are discovered. For mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets this includes not using devices for which security controls have been intentionally subverted by the end user, such as a “jail broken” or “rooted” operating system.
  • Set up your system and applications to receive updates automatically except where specific business requirements prevent doing so.
    • Set up Windows Update or Mac Software Update to download and install automatically.
    • For mobile devices, use the native app store to download and install operating system and application updates automatically.
    • Unless device updates are being managed by an IT support group, configure devices to be updated within 2-3 days of a patch being released.
    • Where business requirements prevent running fully updated software it may be necessary to deploy compensating controls. Consult with Information Security for these cases.
  • Pick a strong password and set your system up to require that password when you start the computer.
  • Use biometric authentication (thumbprint, facial recognition, etc.) or set a strong PIN (alphanumeric), passcode, password or pattern on mobile devices. Many protections and security features of your phone (for example, the native encryption capability of the iPhone) are not activated unless you have turned on this security feature.
  • Create a non-administrative account on your computer to use for normal day-to-day activities. This account should be a regular user account and not an administrative or root account.
  • Have your computer or mobile device lock the screen and require your password to regain access if you are inactive for more than 15 minutes.
  • Install an anti-virus program.
  • If you have information on your computer or mobile device that is important to the operation of the University, back up that data.
  • If connecting from an off-campus location, establish a VPN or encrypted connection before accessing any Confidential or Restricted Use data via the network.
  • Any personal Electronic Device accessing, storing or processing Restricted Use data must be encrypted.
  • Encrypt data at rest using native disk encryption functionality (for example, Bitlocker for Windows, FileVault for Mac or the native encryption on your smartphone or tablet) to protect data stored on mobile Electronic Devices.
  • For Electronic Devices that support it, make sure that you can remotely wipe the device.
  • All wireless connections must use strong encryption-WPA2 or equivalent or better- such as is offered by Boston University’s 802.1x wireless network or by using a VPN over a wireless network.
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Non-Endpoint Devices

This section contains detailed security requirements for all devices and services run or arranged for by the University, including but not limited to by IS&T.

  • Vendor supported operating systems and applications should be used to store or process data, and must be used for storing or processing Confidential or Restricted Use data. Non-supported operating systems (e.g., Windows XP or Windows 2003) should not be used. For already deployed systems that cannot be upgraded, compensating controls must be in place and approved through the Risk Acceptance Process (Contact BU Information Security).
  • Systems should not require the intervention of a systems administrator on a per-machine basis to be updated. Use a tool that applies updates automatically. Absent a patch management program, security-related patches and updates must be applied to servers within 30 days.
  • Any default or vendor-supplied password must be changed to a non-default value.
  • System/Device based firewalls should be used where it is reasonable to do so, are recommended for systems with Confidential data, and required for systems with Restricted Use data.
  • Data that is important to the operations of the University should be backed up to protect against loss of use. See the University Record Retention Policy (FA-002) for details.
  • Sensitive Information should be encrypted in transit where it is reasonable to do so using VPN, SSL, or similar technologies. Encryption in transit is strongly recommended for Confidential data and required for Restricted Use.
  • All authentication attempts to operating systems and applications, both successful and failed, must be locally logged. These audit logs should be forwarded to an enterprise log repository where possible.
  • On multiuser devices, file system access controls should be implemented to ensure that data is not accessed by unauthorized users. Systems used to process or store Confidential or Restricted Use information should not host any unauthenticated service that allows access to browse the file system, such as anonymous ftp or directory indexing via a web server.
  • Servers storing significant quantities of Confidential data or any Restricted Use data should be kept in secure rooms with strong physical access controls. Two factor physical access controls and video surveillance of these areas should be considered.
  • Restricted Use data must be encrypted at rest; other data should be encrypted where reasonable to do so, preferably using technologies like whole disk encryption that is native to the operating system.
  • Reusable media (disk drives) should be securely erased when removed from service. When Restricted Use data is involved, failed media that is not encrypted (even if under warranty) cannot be returned to the manufacturer if it cannot be wiped. These drives must be destroyed via our Media Destruction service.
  • Systems should be routinely scanned for vulnerabilities and discovered vulnerabilities should be remediated swiftly.
  • Network-accessible systems that contain Restricted Use information from multiple individuals should require two-factor identification where technically practicable, including access by individuals to their own data.
  • Anti-virus software should be installed and tied to enterprise management and reporting utilities.
  • Network services that do not have an associated business need should be disabled.


Information Security is authorized to grant exceptions to the requirements set forth in this document. Any exception granted will require a thorough review of the situation and the implementation of appropriate compensating controls.

In addition, Information Security may publish directives aimed at clarifying the intent of a standard to aid in the interpretation of this policy.


Failure to comply with the Data Protection Standards may result in harm to individuals, organizations or Boston University. The unauthorized or unacceptable use of University Data, including the failure to comply with these standards, constitutes a violation of University policy and may subject the User to revocation of the privilege to use University Data or Information Technology or disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

References and Related Documents

The Boston University Data Protection Standards:

Data Classification Policy
Data Management Guide
Identity and Access Management
Data Protection Requirements
Minimum Security Standards
Education, Compliance, and Remediation

Additional Guidance on Data Protection Standards

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