Schools fall victim to P2P security breaches


Sharing files over unsecured P2P networks can result in data breaches.

Sharing files over unsecured P2P networks can result in data breaches.


Peer-to-peer file sharing in schools and colleges has come under scrutiny again after a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe turned up massive security breaches that made student grades, Social Security numbers, and medical records accessible to anyone connected to the peer-to-peer networks at several institutions.

The FTC sent letters to 100 schools and companies Feb. 22, warning them of data breaches that made sensitive information vulnerable to an unknown number of people on open P2P networks.

P2P networks, when working correctly, allow groups to share information online, such as software, music, videos, and documents. The openness of these networks, however, can leave sensitive data available to people who are supposed to be barred from seeing that information if the file-sharing software is not configured properly.

In a statement, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said schools, colleges, and businesses “should take a hard look at their systems to ensure that there are no unauthorized P2P file-sharing programs and that authorized programs are properly configured and secure.”

Leibowitz added: “Just as important, companies that distribute P2P programs, for their part, should ensure that their software design does not contribute to inadvertent file sharing.”

Letters sent to school and campus administrators included federal warnings that student and faculty information might have been exposed through popular file-sharing sites BitTorrent and Limewire. The letters urged campus decision makers to consult their technology officials about how to protect information from exposure on P2P networks.

The FTC also directed institutions to contact employees, students, and customers who might have been affected by the security breach. The agency would not disclose which institutions received letters.

Schools victimized by the security breaches might have broken a federal law that requires institutions using P2P networks to take “reasonable and appropriate security measures to protect sensitive personal information.”

“Failure to prevent such information from being shared to a P2P network may violate such laws,” according to the FTC’s web site.

Campus technology officials have struggled to find legal file-sharing alternatives to illegal sites once prevalent on campuses, used by students to download songs and movies for free.

Last year, Ruckus—a download service supported by advertisements and available free of charge to college students—shut down, continuing a string of early departures by free or low-cost music sites. Ruckus went under after Universal Music Group and Sony did away with their Total Music venture, which owned Ruckus.

Cdigix, along with Napster, which switched to a legal downloading service after beginning as a controversial free file-sharing site in the late 1990s, were other affordable music sites that have closed down or stopped catering to colleges in recent months.

Low-cost digital music services have failed on college campuses in part because music choices were so limited that students were driven to illegal file-sharing web sites where more songs were available—and free.


FCC survey shows need to teach internet basics

Is the internet too dangerous for children?

46 percent of adults who don't have broadband access believe the internet is too dangerous for children.

The federal government’s plan to provide fast internet connections to all Americans will have to include some basic instruction in Web 101, a new survey reveals. According to the survey, nearly half of adults who don’t subscribe to broadband say the internet is too dangerous for children—a finding that suggests policy makers and educators face a steep challenge in convincing much of the public of the benefits of broadband access.

The Federal Communications Commission’s first-ever survey on internet usage and attitudes concludes that those who aren’t connected today need to be taught how to navigate the web, find online information that is valuable to them, and avoid hazards such as internet scams.

The study, released Feb. 23, comes less than a month before the FCC is due to hand Congress policy recommendations on how to make affordable, high-speed internet access a reality for everyone. The findings are certain to shape the policy recommendations in that plan, which was mandated by last year’s stimulus bill.

The Obama administration has identified universal broadband as critical to driving economic development, producing jobs, and expanding the reach of cutting-edge medicine and educational opportunities.

Part of the FCC’s broadband plan will focus on building networks in parts of the country that lack high-speed access—particularly rural America. Among other things, the plan will propose using the fund that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural communities to pay for internet connections and finding more airwaves for wireless broadband services. (A summary of the plan’s key educational goals can be found here.)

But the findings from the FCC’s survey reveal that the plan also must focus on teaching people how to use the internet and convincing them that it’s safe and relevant to their lives, said John Horrigan, consumer research director for the FCC and author of the survey.

The survey found that 35 percent of Americans do not use broadband at home, including 22 percent of adults who do not use the internet at all. (That compares pretty closely with separate findings from the Commerce Department suggesting that nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t have broadband service.)

Of that 35 percent, 36 percent say it is too expensive, while 19 percent do not see the internet as relevant to their lives. Another 22 percent lack what the FCC calls “digital literacy” skills. They fall into a category that includes people who are not comfortable with computers or who are scared of “bad things” on the internet.

Among people who do not use broadband, 65 percent say there is too much pornography and offensive material on the internet, 57 percent say it is too easy for personal information to be stolen online, and 46 percent believe the internet is too dangerous for children.

The FCC’s findings were based on telephone surveys of more than 5,000 adult Americans conducted in October and November of last year. The survey found that 78 percent of American adults use the internet, including 6 percent who don’t have a connection at home but who get access at work or somewhere else, and 74 percent have internet access at home, including 6 percent who use a dial-up connection.


Princeton students, profs give Kindle mixed grades

One Princeton student surveyed said the Kindle was "difficult to use."

Princeton University has released findings from its semester-long pilot of’s Kindle DX electronic reader, and the results appear mixed: While students reduced the amount of paper they printed for their classes by nearly 50 percent, some students and professors said they felt restricted by the device.

“e-Readers must be significantly improved to have the same value in a teaching environment as traditional paper texts,” a university press release said.

Students and faculty who were surveyed after the pilot program ended said they appreciated the portability of the Kindle DX, and the fact that it greatly reduced the printing and photocopying they did for their courses. But they said they missed the ability to highlight text directly, take notes, and flip back and forth through pages of their textbook easily.

“With enhancements to their annotation capability, display of page numbers, and content organization, e-Readers and related technologies may help contain and ultimately reduce the amount of printing done by students at Princeton and elsewhere,” said Serge Goldstein, the university’s associate chief information officer and director of academic services. Goldstein also was one of the pilot project’s managers.

Princeton was one of a handful of universities that piloted the Kindle DX last fall, in part to help determine if e-Reader technology could reduce the use of paper without adversely affecting the classroom experience. Fifty students in three courses agreed to participate in the voluntary project at Princeton.

Graduate student Tabari Dossett, who received a Kindle DX after enrolling in the pilot course “U.S. Policy and Diplomacy in the Middle East,” said, “I only printed out two articles for this course all semester.”

He added: “Using the Kindle has made me a lot more conscious of my paper use. As a result of this experience, I have decided to not only keep my Kindle, but I have begun to use the Kindle for class readings for this semester. I have begun uploading readings from my computer onto the Kindle, which has also cut down on my printing hundreds of pages of readings so far this semester.”

Princeton students and faculty members who took part in the Kindle pilot received a free device that they could keep.

Sophomore Eddie Skolnick, who was enrolled in the undergraduate course “Civil Society and Public Policy,” said he had a less positive experience with the technology.

“I found the device ,” he said, adding: “But I can see how it can be used for pleasure reading.”

About 65 percent of the participants in the Princeton pilot said they would not buy another e-Reader now if theirs was broken. Almost all the participants said they were interested in following the technology to its next stages, however, because they think a device that works well in academia would be worth having.

The things students liked best about the Kindle DX included its battery life, the wireless connection, and the portability of the e-Reader device; the fact that all the course reading was on one device; the ability to search for content; and the readability of the screen, including the fact it could be read in full sunlight.


Three-fourths of professionals believe the internet makes us smarter

A survey of web users and professionals found that a majority of them believe the internet is making us smarter, InformationWeek reports—although some critics believe internet use is zapping our critical thinking skills. The web-based survey of nearly 900 prominent scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers, and technology developers found that three out of four believe the internet “enhances and augments” human intelligence. In addition, two-thirds of the respondents said the internet also improves reading, writing, and rendering of knowledge. The survey was conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. The poll was motivated by tech scholar and analyst Nicholas Carr’s 2009 Atlantic Monthly magazine cover story, entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In a response to the survey, Carr stuck by his original argument that the internet shifts the emphasis of people’s intelligence away from meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what he called “utilitarian intelligence.” “The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking,” said Carr, who participated in the survey. Other participants disagreed, such as Craig Newmark, founder of Craigs’s List, who said people use Google as an adjunct to their own memory. Respondent David Ellis, a professor at York University in Toronto, said that instead of making people stupid, Google was reinforcing intellectual laziness among people satisfied with the top 10 or 15 listings from search queries…

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To impress, Tufts prospects turn to YouTube

It is reading season at the Tufts University admissions office, time to plow through thousands of essays, transcripts, and recommendations—and this year, for the first time, short YouTube videos that students could post to supplement their application, reports the New York Times. About 1,000 of the 15,000 applicants submitted videos. There are videos showing off card tricks, horsemanship, jump rope, and stencils—and lots of rap songs. Some have gotten thousands of hits on YouTube. Tufts, which, like the University of Chicago, is known for its quirky applications, invited the YouTube videos. Lee Coffin, the dean of undergraduate admissions, said the idea came to him last spring as he watched a YouTube video someone had sent him. “I thought, ‘If this kid applied to Tufts, I’d admit him in a minute, without anything else,’” Coffin said. For their videos, some students sat in their bedrooms and talked earnestly into the camera, while others made day-in-the-life montages, featuring buddies, burgers, and lacrosse practice. A few were quite elaborate productions. Even without prompting, admissions officials say, a growing number of students submit videos. For Tufts, the videos have been a delightful way to get to know the applicants. “At heart, this is all about a conversation between a kid and an admissions officer,” Coffin said. “You see their floppy hair and their messy bedrooms, and you get a sense of who they are. We have a lot of information about applicants, but the videos let them share their voice.”

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Career-oriented courses at Texas schools get with the times

Movies are in 3-D, accountants who track fraud are in demand, and farmers now use computers to measure moisture in the soil. While the times have changed, high school career classes in Texas were much the same, sometimes emphasizing outdated skills, reports the Dallas Morning News—but that is now changing, too. New Labor Department revisions in career and technology education have trickled down to the Texas Education Agency and to school districts. Following the Labor Department’s lead to cluster career classes into 16 areas, the state has collapsed 600 approved classes into 200 carefully planned courses. But the new career and technology curriculum has hit at the same time as new state graduation requirements, causing some chaos. Wes Cunningham, principal of Frisco’s Career and Technical Education Center, said he thinks the state changes, for the most part, are good. They emphasize new skills for the job market. For instance, students interested in architecture have learned a computer program called AutoCAD, the standard for drawing plans. But that standard is changing to Revit, which produces 3-D drawings. Students will spend less time on AutoCAD and will add Revit, he said. That falls in line with the goal to make sure students are prepared for both a job and college…

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Apple bans some apps for sex-tinged content

Apple has started banning many applications for its iPhone that feature sexually suggestive material, including photos of women in bikinis and lingerie, reports the New York Times—a move that came as an abrupt surprise to developers who had been profiting from such programs. The company’s decision to remove the applications from its App Store over the last few days indicates that it is not interested in giving up its tight control over the software available there, even as competitors like Google take a more hands-off approach. When asked about the change, Apple said it was responding to complaints from App Store users. Philip W. Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing at Apple, said in an interview that over the last few weeks a small number of developers had been submitting “an increasing number of apps containing very objectionable content. … It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see.”

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Life-saving mandate? Every Oregon school would have an automatic defibrillator

It’s likely that every Oregon school will be required to have an automatic heart defibrillator available by 2015, reports the Oregonian. The House Education Committee voted 7-3 in favor of the requirement Feb. 19, and it now heads to the House floor. The full Senate approved Senate Bill 1033 earlier this week. Members of the House panel said they were reluctant to impose an unfunded mandate on schools, and they said they hope local donors will help pay the costs. But they said the potential to save lives moved them to vote yes on the mandate. Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, will make the case for the bill when it comes before the House. She testified with tears in her eyes that, in 2001, her young nephew died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart problem at school. “This equipment very possibly could have saved his life,” she said. Automatic defibrillators, designed to be easy for lay people to use, shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. They typically cost $1,500 to $2,000. Some lawmakers questioned whether tiny rural schools can afford and truly need one. The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, noted, “Rural schools often do more than just be a schoolhouse. Often they are the place for community events. … Emergency services are very important. We don’t actually think about them too much. But as a guy who has ridden in an ambulance twice in the last year, I’ll tell you, it’s nice to have around. This is important for rural Oregon.”

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Online books let college students earn credit—and cash

Traditional textbooks can cost more than $900 per year, according to national surveys.

Traditional textbooks can cost more than $900 per year, according to national surveys.

Nineteen business majors are trying to sell the idea of free online textbooks to their professors in an internship program that pushes open-content technology designed to counter escalating book costs.

The internships, introduced this year by open textbook provider Flat World Knowledge, let sophomore and junior business students earn college credit and a little spending cash if their sales pitch convinces a professor to use web-based texts that can be reorganized and modified by chapter, sentence, or word.

Students from schools that include New York University, the University of Florida, and the College of Charleston are being tutored via webinars by Flat World Knowledge sales pros and authors of textbooks that are sold on the Flat World web site.

The company has grown in the past year as the open-content movement has gained traction in higher education, buttressed by the Creative Commons license—which doesn’t require permission from authors to change parts of a book—and the rising cost of textbooks.

College students pay more than $900 annually for textbooks, according to national surveys released in 2008 and 2009.

More than 40,000 students at 400 colleges used Flat World textbooks in the fall 2009 semester, according to the company. That’s up significantly from about 1,000 students on 30 campuses who used Flat World material last spring. Students can order traditional bound textbooks for a minimal cost, usually around $25, according to the Flat World site.

Company officials said real-world training from seasoned salespeople would benefit the interns academically, and learning about open content and its growing role on university campuses would help spread the word to faculty looking to save their students money every semester. Flat World interns can earn money through sales made to professors…

Read the full story on eCampus News.


Yearbooks another casualty of the Facebook generation

About 1,000 U.S. colleges still publish yearbooks, according to a study conducted by Jostens.

About 1,000 U.S. colleges still publish yearbooks, according to a study conducted by Jostens.

For the first time since 1887, students at the University of Virginia won’t have a hardcover memento of their college years: The school founded by Thomas Jefferson has become the latest to decide there’s no place for the traditional yearbook in the age of Facebook.

The student publishers of “Corks and Curls” decided to scrap this year’s edition because they didn’t have the money—an edition can cost more than $100,000—or the student demand. Student apathy and the financial realities of publishing makes the chance of reviving it slim, editor Michelle Burch said.

The Charlottesville, Va., university joins higher-education institutions such as Purdue, Mississippi State, and Old Dominion that no longer publish yearbooks as more students share memories through social-networking web sites.

“You have campuses now where students are less connected to the campus itself, and are not participating in the traditional types of activities,” said Logan Aimone, executive director of Associated Collegiate Press, a Minneapolis-based organization that advises student media outlets.

“People are getting more accustomed to instant documentation, but what they’re losing is permanent documentation.”

Read the full story at eCampus News.