Theft of campus computer information threatens privacy of faculty, students

Regina Neenan, Staff Reporter

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Information Technology Services Department and University Police Department consistently strive to enhance safety and security measures for the campus community, and the recent campus computer theft further emphasized important security measures.

On December 11 or 12, 2013, Neel V. Patel, 21, a former UW-Platteville student, broke into Gardner Hall, threatening the safety and security of the campus community.

“This is a fairly unusual case for us in that he gained access to spaces on campus without permission and then gained access to computer systems,” Chief of University Police Scott Marquardt said.

Official court records do not state why the break-in occurred.

However, it is suspected that Patel’s intent was to access grading data.

“When something like this happens, you want to take a look at the security measures in place,” UW-Platteville Public Information and Communications Director Paul Erikson said. “You want to make sure that it never happens again.”

According to Grant County court records, Patel was charged with 17 criminal counts, including four felony charges.

“One of the things that gets overlooked on this campus is our University Police Department. They were able to solve this and make the campus more secure,” Erickson said.

The University Police Department put many extra hours and hard work into the case, playing an integral role in the apprehension of the suspect and increasing safety and security on campus.

“It was a major case for us here on campus. We put a lot of investigative hours into the case,” Marquardt said.

Marquardt explained that student workers were able to identify the suspect.

“It is very unlikely that we would have solved the case had things not gone that way,” Marquardt said. “The fact that they were able to give us a suspect name was the thing that made this arrest happen.”

In fact, the entire case was handled by the University Police Department.

“If it’s an incident that happens on campus, we are in charge of the case,” Marquardt said. “We have full jurisdiction to do everything, from a parking ticket to a major felony investigation.”

Patel plead not guilty to all charges in the case on Feb. 12.

Charges involved multiple counts of burglary, criminal damage to property, theft, computer data modification and computer access data.

Marquardt explained that, at this stage, the “not guilty” plea is not unusual, as Patel may negotiate a plea bargain before it is decided whether or not the case will go to trial.

According to Erikson, one simple and important measure that everyone should take is to change one’s own password to something more difficult and creative in order to prevent anyone from accessing personal information.

Marquardt applauded the Information Technology Services Department’s hard work in order to enhance security on campus.

In addition to changing passwords regularly, Information Technology Chief Information Officer Sue Traxler suggests that students “use passwords and pass codes on phones and other mobile devices, log out of all applications when finished and use password-encrypted programs to keep passwords safe.”

“The more we can encourage the campus to use these security measures, the better,” Traxler said.

“You have to learn from everything,” Erickson said.

A status conference is scheduled for Patel on April 9, with future court dates on April 22 and 29 at the Grant County Courthouse.

Court documents are available from the State of Wisconsin Circuit Court Public Access files.

More information on security can be found on the Information Technology Services website.