LIBRARIES NEED TO PRIORITIZE PATRON PRIVACY & SECURITY IN A DIGITAL WORLD

Michael Atwood (CTO), BiblioLabs (Makers of BiblioBoard)

Foreword / Note:
Over the past few months, we have been approached by groups leading a charge to recognize patron security and privacy as an important part of library purchasing responsibility. The facts are that many of the platforms licensed by libraries today do not prioritize and sometimes neglect basic steps to ensure libraries can protect patron security and privacy. The reason is simple: Libraries do not demand it.

One of the projects, the Library Freedom Project asked us to sign a pledge that we would move to more secure ways of developing our software, when as standard business practice we had already exceeded what they were asking. Their goal, as I understood, was to push libraries to spend their money with the vendors who made security and privacy a priority. This is a huge opportunity for libraries to differentiate themselves from the corporations who serve us up our media and offer us terms and conditions that rarely prioritize privacy.

Our CTO, Michael Atwood, took some time to outline the vision the technologists share at BiblioBoard and why we think this issue is so important. It is worth a read, and it is worth every librarian asking hard questions of their current vendors as to how these priorities fit into their vision of the digital library of the future.

- Mitchell Davis, Founder & Chief Business Officer, BiblioBoard

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Patron privacy is one of the most important tenets of the library, as we have seen most recently when librarians across the globe cried out against the leaking of Haruki Murakami’s borrowing records. For patrons to feel secure in using the library, librarians need to support their ability to consume media from the library with the knowledge that their interests are not for public consumption. This becomes an even greater concern with the implementation of digital media in the library space; the digital library age has brought with it many conveniences, but also concerns around security and patron privacy.

Patron privacy goes hand-in-hand with what the digital industry would consider good security practices. At the forefront of the digital library world, BiblioBoard takes security and patron privacy very seriously.

Some of the methods employed by BiblioBoard to protect patron privacy include:

  • Privacy By Design
    BiblioBoard designs for patron privacy and not against. For example, patrons are not required to supply an email address at all when creating an account. This allows users to continue to have an increased degree of anonymity. The “forgot password?” feature only responds with an affirmative and never lets the user know if an email address was really found. Although this can make it harder for a real user, it prevents an attacker from trying different email addresses to discover whether a user is even on BiblioBoard. While BiblioBoard does provide reporting to publishers and libraries, all reporting data is scrubbed of any patron-identifying features. Reports are also in aggregate and never at a single patron level.
  • HTTPS/TLS/SSL Everywhere
    The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the foundation on how computers communicate on the internet. Web browsers like Chrome communicate to servers using HTTP in order to retrieve web pages. The problem is that HTTP is sending plaintext across the internet. This allows an attacker to read information sent back and forth from the web browser to the website. BiblioBoard follows best practices and forces all traffic over encrypted HTTP, known as HTTPS. This encrypted communication helps keep the information sent between the web browser and the website private. Google and others are pushing for all websites to change over to the more secure HTTPS, which BiblioBoard has already done.
  • Hashed and Salted Passwords
    Users frequently use the same username and password across multiple websites. For the user, this means his/her username and password is only as secure as the weakest site s/he uses. BiblioBoard hashes and salts all passwords, so if the user database is ever compromised, attackers cannot use the database to attempt attacks against other sites. By using hashes, not even a BiblioBoard employee can ever see the user’s password.
  • Prevent Leaking of Personal Data
    BiblioBoard encrypts all identifiable patron data while it is stored. Once again, if the BiblioBoard database is compromised, attackers will have to decrypt things like email addresses before they can be used.

No one security strategy is perfect. Instead of choosing just one, an application must provide layers of security that make it challenging for attackers during the entire hacking process. This is more important than ever, as our world moves ever more quickly into the digital realm.

The points listed above are only a few of the ways BiblioBoard fights to keep patron data secure. To learn more about how BiblioBoard strives to protect patron privacy, contact Michael Atwood or sign up for a free trial today to see for yourself.

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