Science
2:03 pm
Wed October 3, 2012

UT Asks For Permission To Wreak Mobile Havoc. Then Promises It Won't.

Over the weekend, some University of Texas email users that read their mail on certain mobile devices received a puzzling pop-up notification. Users on Google Android tablets, or iPads with an older iOS, were asked to sacrifice some privacy features.

When users opened their email app they were not allowed to read their mail until they gave permission for UT to erase data at will, disable cameras, set storage encryption, lock the screen, and monitor log-in attempts. The message looked like this:

Credit University of Texas Information Technology Services

According to the University's IT help desk, the ominous message wasn’t a virus, a phishing attempt, or mal-ware.  Rather, the help desk says, it was an unintended outcome of a routine software update.  

On Saturday the University updated its Microsoft Exchange email programs. “It appears that an unexpected consequence of the updates applied this weekend was the re-generation and re-application of the default ActiveSync mailbox policy,” wrote the UT IT helpdesk. ActiveSync is the data synchronization technology Microsoft uses.

Though UT says it’s all been sorted out (come Monday morning UT IT had disabled the prompt on many tablets) many email users at UT are alarmed--puzzled by the potential the University might have to take over their tablets.

The helpdesk says those fears are unwarranted, assuring users they'll only take over a device upon request.

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