Carnegie Mellon University

Guidelines for Appropriate Use of Administrator Access

Purpose

The purpose of this Guideline is to instruct users on appropriate use of Administrator Access to Carnegie Mellon University (“University”) computing and information resources and to aid in the interpretation of requirements set forth in the University Computing Policy and other University guidelines.

Applies To

This Guideline applies to all University system and application administrators and any other personnel who are provided with Administrator Access to University computing and information resources.

Definitions

Administrator Access is defined as a level of access above that of a normal user.  This definition is intentionally vague to allow the flexibility to accommodate varying systems and authentication mechanisms.  In a traditional Microsoft Windows environment, members of the Power Users, Local Administrators, Domain Administrators and Enterprise Administrators groups would all be considered to have Administrator Access.  In a traditional UNIX or Linux environment, users with root level access or the ability to sudo would be considered to have Administrator Access.  In an application environment, users with ‘super-user’ or system administrator roles and responsibilities would be considered to have Administrator Access.  In theory, this guidance applies to any user account in that utilization of access rights is reserved solely for the intended business purpose.

Non-public Information is defined as any information that is classified as Restricted Information (both Moderately Sensitive and Highly Sensitive) according to the University Guidelines for Data Classification.  Access to Restricted Data must be approved by the designated Data Owner (Data Steward) as defined in the University Information Security Policy under Roles and Responsibilities.

Guidelines

The University Computing Policy provides a framework for appropriate and inappropriate use of University computing and information resources.  More specifically, the University Computing Policy prohibits, “Using a computer system without proper authorization granted through the University, college or department management structure.”  It further prohibits attempts to “...circumvent system security without the explicit permission of the owner of that system.”  System administrators and other University personnel with Administrator Access to computing and information resources are entrusted to use such access in an appropriate manner.  The following provides high-level guidance on what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate use of Administrator Access.

Appropriate Use of Administrator Access

Administrator Access to University computing resources should only be used for official University business.  While the University Computing Policy permits reasonable personal use of computing resources, this is restricted to non-administrative activities.   Use of Administrator Access should be consistent with an individual’s role or job responsibilities as prescribed by management.  When an individual’s role or job responsibilities change, Administrator Access should be appropriately updated or removed.  In situations where it is unclear whether a particular action is appropriate, and within the scope of current job responsibilities, the situation should be discussed with management. 

Users with Administrative Access may be required to perform some security activities such as software or operating system patching and updates, as well as monitoring for unusual activity.  If a security incident is suspected, no additional actions should be taken before consulting with the Information Security Office by email iso-ir@andrew.cmu.edu or phone 412.268.2044 per the Procedure Responding to a Compromised Computer document.

Inappropriate Use of Administrator Access

In addition to those activities deemed inappropriate in the University Computing Policy, the following constitute inappropriate use of Administrator Access to University computing resources unless documented and approved by management:

  • Circumventing user access controls or any other formal University security controls
  • Circumventing any other formal University computing controls
  • Circumventing formal account activation/suspension procedures
  • Circumventing formal account access change request procedures
  • Circumventing any other established University procedures that are approved by some level of management

The following constitutes inappropriate use of Administrator Access to University computing resources under any circumstances, regardless of whether there is management approval:

  • Accessing Non-public Information that is outside the scope of specific job responsibilities
  • Exposing or otherwise disclosing Non-public Information to unauthorized persons
  • Using access to satisfy personal curiosity about an individual, system, practice, or other type of entity.

*Note: If an account or a machine with Administrator Access is believed to be compromised, users with Administrator Access should NOT perform any type of digital forensics and notify the Information Security Office immediately for further investigation.

Reporting Inappropriate Use of Administrator Access

As stated in the University Computing Policy, any user who suspects a violation of the University Computing Policy should contact the Information Security Office at iso-ir@andrew.cmu.edu.  This includes suspected inappropriate use of Administrator Access. 

Revision History

Version Date Published
Author
Description
1.0 12/01/2007 Doug Markiewicz Original publication
1.1 02/11/2014 Wiam Younes Replaced information referencing University Data and Computer Security Policy with information based on University Information Security Policy and University Guidelines for Data Classification.
1.2 03/02/2021 Joseph Magliocca Moved "Additional Information" and "Resources" to sidebar. Added Data Protection Guidelines to "Resources". Updated language to reflect current best practices. 

Status Date Published 
Published:  12/01/2007 
Last Reviewed:  10/12/2016
Last Updated:  03/02/2021