CRIS Spotlight on …

Working Securely: Remote Data Collection and Storage

Shifting our way of work requires the adoption of alternate tools and technologies. Find out about available tools and supports to collect and store research data securely.

Collecting Data Remotely

REDCap

  • REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is a free and secure web application that University of Toronto faculty and researchers can use to build and manage online surveys and databases. REDCap can be used to collect many types of data, but it is specifically geared to support online or offline data capture for research studies and operations. For a comprehensive list of REDCap features, visit: https://projectredcap.org/software/
  • The physical infrastructure for the University of Toronto’s REDCap instance is completely maintained within the University’s highly secure, limited-access Data Centre. All collected data is kept on premises while it exists within the REDCap instance. Each survey owner is responsible for their own data management plan.
  • REDCap is supported by ACT (Academic and Collaborative Technologies), and new users can access a start-up guide, as well as comprehensive resources available through the REDCap consortium. On-boarding for REDCap is rolling out to new users on a divisional basis. Please note that delays may occur due to challenges of deploying physical eTokens for new users during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MS Teams

  • MS Teams is a communication and collaboration platform that can be used to conduct virtual interviews and focus groups. Teams has both a video and audio function, and external participants can be invited to join. There is also an option to record meetings in Teams, with automatic notification to participants. The recording is stored within the Team and is available to the owner and meeting participants. The output is available to the owner in Microsoft Stream under their My Content tab. More information on MS Stream is available on the ITS Office 365 site.
  • MS Teams is part of Office 365 and is considered a secure storage facility. It is appropriate for data classified up to and including level three of the University’s data classification structure (e.g., Confidential data). This is based on the Privacy Impact Assessment and Threat Risk Analysis conducted by the University.
  • MS Teams is supported by EASI. To learn how to set up a Team, see Good Practices for Teams from home and Teams Tips sheet. Check Connect + Learning sessions for training.

VoIP Virtual User+ and Premium User Account

  • The BroadConnect Voice over IP client makes it possible to complete audio and video calls as if you were in your office. Users can log into their account on their computer or on a SmartPhone via the Communicator 7 App. With a Premium User account you can activate collaboration tools such as ‘My Room’ a personal conference bridge and video calling. This is an available option for phone interviews with one or multiple persons. Tutorials on using VOIP are available here.
  • A full institutional risk assessment was completed, and all voice and video calls are encrypted in transit.
  • More information on Voice over IP may be found on the Telecommunications site

Other Conferencing Platforms

  • Several divisions may use other platforms for the purposes of teaching and administrative work (e.g., Zoom), these are not institutionally endorsed for research purposes. A summary of some of these platforms can be found here.

Storing and Sharing Project Data

Data can be stored securely by connecting remotely to Office 365 services such as OneDrive or SharePoint, or departmental network storage through VPN.  Note the options described below are not meant to serve as long-term data repositories.

Office 365

  • Can students access faculty member’s OneDrive for secure storage?
    Yes, students can be granted access to a OneDrive file or folder belonging to a faculty member if the faculty member shared it with them through the OneDrive interface.  Students also have access to their own O365 storage.
  • Can external collaborators also access OneDrive files?
    Yes, external collaborators can be granted access to a OneDrive file or folder belonging to a faculty member using the ‘Anyone with Link’ share option. If the file contains level 3 data, it is recommended that prior to sharing the link that files be password protected. For example, this can be done in MS documents such as Word through the menu File > Info > Protect Document > Encrypt with Password. In addition, when using the ‘Anyone with Link’ option, a password may be added to the link itself. This password must be shared with the intended recipient(s) separately.

VPN

  • Is it safe for my students to use VPN to access/store identifiable data?
    Yes, students can securely transfer (access or store) data through VPN
  • How do students get access to use VPN?
    UTORvpn is available to University Faculty, Staff and Students. It provides secure access via an encrypted tunnel to University resources from off-campus. Dynamic internet protocol (IP) addresses are automatically assigned. To connect, you must install the Cisco AnyConnect software onto your computer. Once installed, connect via: general.vpn.utoronto.ca and sign into the “UTORvpn” group with your UTORid. Visit here for more information on how to set up the UTORvpn.
  • Can external collaborators access data through VPN?
    No, if you wish to provide access to research files and data with external collaborators, utilize the OneDrive options addressed above.
  • Data repositories are a secure option for longer-term data sharing and storage. Generally, repositories are not meant to serve as active storage for work in progress.
  • UTL has created a quick guide to help you determine, which type of repository might best suit your needs.

Dataverse

  • Dataverse is a secure multidisciplinary data repository open to U of T researchers to deposit and share research data (datasets, files, code, etc.). Dataverse can be used to share de-identified and non-confidential data only. Dataverse does not accept content that contains confidential or sensitive information. Dataverse can also be used to discover and reuse data produced by other researchers. Deposited datasets receive DOIs.
  • Researchers can access a quick start guide to depositing data in dataverse, as well as videos on creating and publishing data in dataverse
  • Other commonly used multidisciplinary repositories include: Zenodo, Figshare and Dryad. UTL has created a reference table comparing the cost and size limits of Dataverse with these other options.

Discipline-Specific Repositories: 

 

Additional Resources

Quick Tips to Protect and Secure Data

  • Protect device storage to reduce the risk of data loss and theft by using device encryption and using strong passwords
  • Set ‘Find My …’ capabilities on applications, and enable location services to help locate missing devices, and permit remote locking and data deletion
  • Complete device and data backup on phones and laptops regularly to provide a recovery point prior to infection or loss or allow a rebuild safely after a ransomware event
  • Connect securely over the internet by utilizing VPN to protect data in transit and reduce the risk of data loss in transmission
  • Take data with you securely by uploading to OneDrive or SharePoint (even travelling in your neighbourhood!), to reduce the risk of ‘losing everything’
  • Don’t travel with a ‘loaded’ machine

*Tools referenced in this page are secure when used as directed.