K-State online security officer spends free time playing guitar, backpacking


The protector of our online information is not a superhero. He is an ordinary guy who has been at K-State for more than 30 years, and he works in an office surrounded by books and journals of information on technology security. But there is more to Harvard Townsend, including his sense of adventure.

Increase in security

Townsend, K-State’s IT security officer, works in all areas of online security. He is responsible for the policies and procedures, user awareness and handling incidents.

“Technology has infiltrated every aspect of the institution,” he said. “The institution relies on it heavily. Everyone is connected in some way online, which means there is greater exposure of K-State’s resources.

“All of your data about you as a student or me as an employee is online, and I can access it online, and there are people that know that’s online and are looking for that.”

Townsend said IT security has become more important lately, and more criminal activities are taking place online. Another part of his job is law enforcement and investigating incidents, like the recent e-mail scam that has taken a significant portion of his time.

He said the university already has had 200 incidents this year, with most of them relating to the scam. User awareness and education can help with these incidents.

“That’s always, in security, one of the biggest challenges – to teach people about their responsibilities for security – because it’s not just the domain of IT professionals,” he said. “It must involve everybody. I can’t use a technology to prevent you from replying to an e-mail with your password. You are the best defense in that regard.”

Though his job constantly changes as he learns new areas of information, he said he likes the challenge because it keeps him from being bored.

Sense of adventure

This helps peak Townsend’s love of adventure. He graduated from K-State with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology to complement his love of the outdoors. He enjoys everything from running marathons to backpacking to mountain biking, which he said is one of the few activities he does that still scares him.

For his 25th wedding anniversary, he and his wife hiked the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango, a 477-mile, 41-day backpacking trip.

“That was definitely a highlight of life,” he said. A map of the trail along with a photo of him and his wife wearing backpacks hangs on his office wall.

“I’ve often said that the best thing about Kansas is that it’s next to Colorado,” he joked. “Seven hours and I can be to the mountains.

“But Manhattan’s a great place to raise a family. This is where we’ve ended up, and I don’t regret that at all.”

Change in career

Pictures of Townsend’s three children also line his walls. His dedication to his family ultimately led to his eventual career in computing and information sciences. When he graduated from K-State, he was married and had his first child on the way. He had been accepted to a graduate program in rural Michigan, but after he and his wife thought about their long-term career plans, they did not think moving to Michigan was the best decision.

So, they stayed in Manhattan, and he started his graduate studies in CIS.

“It’s been a great way to provide for my family,” he said. “I believe it is God’s direction, personally. The only background I had was a couple of graduate statistics classes I took in preparation for my advanced wildlife degree.

“At the time, it was a young profession in a relatively new curriculum. It was a real radical change in career paths, but I’ve definitely maintained my career interests as a hobby.”

Life at K-State

Townsend’s wife is a biology faculty member and teaches Human Body. The two met through their love of biology, and during his last undergraduate semester at K-State, Townsend had her as a lab instructor.

“That was awkward,” he said, laughing. The university allowed him to audit the class even though his wife was the instructor, but he said “she was hard.”

Townsend said he enjoys meeting new people at K-State and appreciates the opportunities available.

“There are a variety of intellectual pursuits,” he said. “That’s true of any institution. That’s why I like higher [education]. It’s fascinating and stimulating, and I love to be a part of supporting those efforts to ultimately better the world.”

Townsend’s other interests include playing the guitar, reading historical biographies and spiritual books and playing sports like basketball and softball. He also is involved with his church. In fact, he and his wife became Christians while students at K-State.

Townsend’s career path has taken many turns along the way. His first 13 years at K-State he worked as an assistant administrative supporter for IT, and he later worked for and also was the director of the computing and networking system.

He has worked as the IT security officer for two years, and he said he likes what he does. However, he said he doesn’t think he’ll have any trouble retiring when the time comes.

“I’ll have plenty to do,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a life list of adventures. So many trips, so little time.”