A More Secure Virtual World
Posted 02/26/2014 01:47PM

Just how safe is your digital identity? Not very, according to Brendan O’Connor ’04, computer scientist and computer security expert. And he wants to do something about it.

Brendan returned to campus last weekend to research CreepyDOL, a project he developed to show just how much identity data gets leaked via wifi from our mobile phones, tablets, and computers. Brendan installed small black boxes he developed at various locations around campus that tracked location while looking for email addresses, names, and photos. His goal, he explains, is to develop a body of proof that he can use to help influence software developers and policy makers regarding data collection and privacy.

“It is proof of concept that the devices we use every day—phones, tablets, laptops, etc.—leak a huge amount of identity data, not just to governments, but to everyday passers-by with an interest in those around them,” Brendan explains. “In essence, someone can spend a few hundred dollars on electronics to replace a 24-hour-a-day work of a team of private investigators. Needless to say, this isn’t good.”

Brendan, who is nearly finished with a law degree from University of Wisconsin, has spent the past two and a half years working on tools that “promote the democratization and availability of technology.” He’s spoken at several national conferences, and hopes to use the research from his UWC-USA visit to present at conferences in Norway and the U.S.

One of his biggest concerns is privacy. “Privacy is fundamental if we want civilization,” Brendan says. “Without it, we won’t take risks and fail. The ability to get things wrong sometimes is incredibly important.”

Brendan, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science, has been a tech geek since he was three. Yes, you read that correctly. Brendan went to preschool at a teaching college in Montana, and was given access to an Apple 2 computer. He’s been “making computers do crazy things” ever since.

The law degree will supplement his computer science work by giving Brendan the ability to pursue policy issues related to computer security. Ultimately, he wants corporations and organizations that collect individuals’ data—everyone from retailers to health care providers—to be held accountable for the security of every piece of data that is collected. Most companies and organizations encrypt certain elements of data, but Brendan wants them to be responsible for all data they choose to collect.

When he’s not consumed by computer security, Brendan creates software and other devices that he makes available for free via the web. He’s convinced that the benefits of technology far outweigh the negative ways it can be used.

“You’re never a victim of technology,” says Brendan. “You can be a victim of bad people, or a friend of good. Technology just lets people express themselves.”

Meet Mzwakithi Shongwe, '12, who came to UWC-USA from Swaziland.


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UWC-USA is one of 17 UWCs on five continents. Other countries that have UWCs include Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Swaziland, Thailand, and Wales.


UWC-USA students perform more than 18,700 hours of service every year through our association with 25 community partners. More than 2,500 people in Las Vegas, N.M. and the surrounding community have benefited from service projects led by UWC-USA students.


UWC-USA has 228 students representing more than 70 countries, from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Eleven students come from countries identified as conflict regions. Representation within our student body includes: Africa 10%, Asia 28%, Europe 29%, North America 23%, South America 10%.


Students don’t apply directly to the school; they are selected by committees in their home countries based on academic achievement, leadership, and curiosity about and involvement with global events and cultures.


Philanthropist Shelby Davis has created a $40 million endowment that provides 50 U.S. students with full scholarships to attend a UWC every year.


Our more than 3,357 UWC-USA alumni are spread across the globe: North America 26%, Latin America and Caribbean 16%, Africa 10%, Middle East 6%, Asia 14%, Europe 21%, Pacific 2%


UWC-USA offers the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Students can choose from IB classes in 28 subjects – a remarkable number given the size of the school.

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