Fresno State announced that it will be deactivating the student email accounts of graduating students from the classes of 2020 and 2021, citing the possibility of security breaches as a reason for this action.
Initially, students received an email on May 19 from Fresno State saying that their student email would be closing in a couple weeks. However, Orlando Leon, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, clarified in a follow-up email that students’ “@mail.fresnostate.edu” email address will remain active for a year.
“Because data breaches have become a significant threat to universities, this step is necessary more than ever. Your transition to a personal email address will help protect both you and Fresno State from cybersecurity threats,” Leon said in the email.
Many students voiced their concerns on the Fresno State Book Trade and Advice Facebook group.
Kaylee Jones, a returning graduate student, started a petition that has gained just above 1,000 signatures.
“Many of us use our student emails professionally to keep in touch with our employers to run our businesses and to network,” Jones said. “Using an email that comes from a .edu address adds some legitimacy to yourself.”
However, Leon said that the decision to deactivate the emails is a subject that has been discussed for a couple years now, especially with cyberattacks against universities happening more often than in the past.
According to Leon, one of the cybersecurity priorities is protecting students from having their information stolen.
Fresno State has already encountered cybersecurity issues regarding student emails. Leon said that, in 2020, Fresno State had individuals accessing student emails after purchasing passwords through the dark web.
“They would actually try to log in to these Fresno State email accounts for past students, and they were able to successfully change passwords,” Leon said. “Fortunately we caught on quickly enough and were able to deactivate those or at least reset the passwords.”
Leon also said that, in 2020, three other members of the California State University system were the victims of cybercrimes as some predators were able to access students’ financial aid funds.
Fresno State took steps to strengthen their cybersecurity by incorporating Duo Mobile for the 2021 spring semester, a two-factor authentication program that has students verify their identity after logging into their school accounts.
Leon said that making this decision involved many people, including members from student affairs, academic affairs, university advancement – which includes the alumni association – and Leon’s technology team.
“What we usually try to do is make sure that the people representing the different areas of the university will know their own constituents or will know the people the best,” Leon said.
One benefit Fresno State student accounts have is there is no limit on storage when using programs like Google Docs, Google Photos or Google Sheets. To access increased storage, users would need to upgrade their personal accounts, where pricing starts at $1.99 a month.
Jones said that switching to a normal email account is possible but said some students would not be able to afford those monthly fees.
“We would have to use multiple Gmail accounts just to store information we can keep in a single Fresno State Google Drive,” Jones said. “I also use my Google Drive to coordinate with my classmates on group assignments and to pull notes.”
Leon said that those are some benefits students get when paying tuition at Fresno State, just as if their tuition goes for usage of the recreation center.
“We love to support people, but we also need to encourage people that as they grow into their professional careers that they’ll need to find ways to still be able to do those same things, but hopefully we can help with the transition,” Leon said. “We want to gently encourage our graduates and our alumni that we need to transition you off from using Fresno State and its tools that we provide for our people who still are here.”
The university will help students transition out of their student email, according to Leon.
The classes of 2020 and 2021 will have until May of 2022 to make the move, but Leon said the university will be there to help.
“What we hope to do is one to create an online web page or resource to let people know things to consider,” Leon said. “So we’ll try to give as many options as possible but we will provide some help. And we’ll even want our alumni to be able to call in case they need even more help than the online web page.”
The university is still looking for options for students to remain connected to Fresno State.
Leon said one option in discussion is having alumni emails. However, before making a decision, Leon said there needs to be a gauge of how many students would be interested in that.