Information Technology Update: Winter 2016

In this Issue

Did You Know About...

Enhancing Services


Did You Know About...

LACOL

LACOL - Resources to Support Digitally-Enabled Teaching, Learning, and Research

As a contributing member of LACOL, the Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning, Amherst College has tremendous resources available to technology-enhanced or digitally-enabled teaching, learning, and research. Browse through the LACOL blog to see how faculty at peer institutions are experimenting and engaging with online and blended modalities. Participate in a working group on active reading, quantitative skills, language instruction, and more. In addition to the working groups, LACOL supports workshops and colloquium series, and is a wonderful resource for blended learning and similar projects.

The latest entry on the LACOL blog features Professor Andrew Dole’s project, Discipline, an immersive, distraction-free virtual reading environment that he developed with Amherst College student Conner Reilly, ’16 and the technical support of Amherst College IT. LACOL’s member institutions include Amherst, Carleton, Claremont McKenna, Haverford, Pomona, Swarthmore, Vassar and Williams Colleges.

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New Website Rollout Plans

Current Website Thumb During the week of Spring Break (March 14 to 18), the College will roll out a new design for the Amherst website. In conjunction, the IT Department will offer trainings to web content editors about the new design and the new content types that let you take advantage of the new design for your pages. Please see the IT Training and Events Calendar for details.

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Safer Privacy Settings Guess Who’s Spying on You: a Brief on Phone/Tablet Privacy

Is someone listening to your conversations? Do you feel like someone is tracking your location at all times? Does the camera on your phone or mobile device take pictures, or video…without your intervention? These are all fears that have concerned people for a long time. Most of us now carry full-blown computers in our pockets. Your mobile phone or  tablet can run an unlimited number of programs, just like a laptop or the computer on your desk. This makes those fears about privacy even more present today.

Take Facebook for example. It wasn’t too long ago that Facebook announced its intentention to use the microphone on your mobile device to listen in on you at anytime. If you agree to the terms and let Facebook access your microphone, it can mine that data to potentially learn what TV shows you watch and what music you prefer, along with other information. Facebook also has a history of later revealing personal information that is initially collected with the promise that it will not be shared. On a similar note, Apple’s Siri constantly listens to what you say, waiting for the “Hey Siri!” activation keywords.

Through its Messenger app, Facebook can have access to both the camera and the microphone of your mobile device. Through the standard Facebook app, it can even be aware of your whereabouts or have access to your contacts. It's very difficult to get to the bottom of what information services such as Facebook send to the cloud and provide to third parties.

So how can you protect your privacy? You can adjust the settings of your mobile devices to limit the information they can share with applications installed on the device. Apple provides a convenient location in iOS preferences to manage the privacy settings for your iOS device. If you use Android, you can manage the privacy settings of each app by visiting Settings > Apps, and tapping on the specific app you would like to manage. There are also tools available for Android that make privacy settings easier to manage.

We would be happy to help you secure your devices, if you need assistance. You can reach us at x2526, or write to us at AskIT@amherst.edu.

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Phishing for Account Credentials

Everyone is at Risk: Don't Fall Prey to Phishing Attempts

College email users have received an alarming number of phishing attempts in recent week that try to trick you into revealing your Amherst username and password. We want to remind you that IT will not ask for your password via email or in person, and that we do not need your password to service your account. Should you receive an email that asks for account verification and it sounds urgent in nature, please forward it to phishing@amherst.edu and we will let you know if the message is authentic. Do not click on links in such emails or provide any information about your Amherst College account or any other account you use.

Recently, the password utility LastPass was the subject of a major phishing scam that allowed attackers to obtain usernames, passwords, and master passwords, and even to bypass the two-factor authentication available for the service. LastPass released an article on how to avoid phishing scams, and it applies to non-LastPass customers as well.

We encourage everyone to remain vigilant and, when in question, not to release account credentials at all until we can help verify the authenticity of an email or a request for an account. We have created an article on the IT website that explains what to look for before you provide your Amherst credentials on a website. Please contact us by writing to AskIT@amherst.edu, if you have any questions or concerns.

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To Block or Not to Block, There’s No Clear Answer

AdBlock Ad blockers are web browser add-ons that let you block advertisements from websites. This type of software has become very popular among computer users because it can help prevent companies from tracking your whereabouts on the Internet, building a list of the websites you visit, and target you with advertising based on this information. An ad blocker can also reduce  network usage because images and videos are no longer downloaded from the Internet, which lets you browse the web faster and with fewer distractions. On the other side of the spectrum, there are companies such as the New York Times that rely on ad revenue for income. Ad blockers strip them of that.

Although ad blockers have been available for many years for web browsers in traditional computers, only recently has Apple provided the mechanism for ad blockers iOS. Given Apple's size and market clout, its actions in enabling ad blockers has raised questions about the ethics and the morality of using them. You can find many articles that support the use of ad blockers, and others that decry its use. Companies like the New York Times are trying to keep up with the needs of the customer, and they know ad blockers are a threat to their livelihood. Part of their response is to offer lower pricing to select groups, like students and faculty.

We can’t sort out all the moral and ethical issues related with ad blocking. Even within our IT operation, some staff members feel comfortable blocking ads while others believe it is morally wrong. To block or not to block, it’s a decision best left to you. We hope you find the information and links in this article useful in making your decision, and would be happy to discuss further should you need more information or assistance. You can reach us at x2526, or write to us at AskIT@amherst.edu

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Enhancing Services

Dropbox Coming Soon! It’s Coming! Dropbox Service for Campus Launching Soon

You might have heard that Dropbox will soon be available for all campus accounts. It's true! IT is testing Dropbox use for teaching, research, and administrative needs this semester, and plans to provide it to all campus accounts this summer. If you would like to be an early adopter, please email AskIT@amherst.edu and state that you would like to join Dropbox. We are particularly interested in faculty who plan to use it for teaching and research, but will provide an account to students, faculty, and staff who are interested in using it before it is widely available at the College.

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Toshiba Chromebook

Do You Need to Borrow a Laptop? An iPad? How about an iPhone?

Is your laptop out for repair and you’re lost in class without it? ATS has a limited number of MacBooks and Chromebooks available for short term loan if your own laptop is out for repair. Working on a project that requires schlepping your heavy laptop around? Check out a lightweight Chromebook or iPad from ATS! Need a deactivated iPhone for a special project? We’ve got those as well! You can make a request for a loaner through AskIT

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Improving Our Training and Seeking Feedback

Checkbox Historically, we have offered many opportunities for enhancing technology skills through training and workshops on campus. We want to build on the educational opportunities we offer by assessing the effectiveness of our trainings and workshops. The simplest form in which this initiative will take place will be with the use of quick surveys at the beginning, middle, and at the end of a training session or a workshop. The surveys, provided to attendees, will measure what attendees want to learn prior to a session, how learning is progressing during the session, and what attendees have learned after the session. The initiative will allow us to improve as trainers, by measuring if attendees are learning the goals and objectives of the training opportunities and workshops we offer. If you attend one of our training workshops in the coming months, you may see this initiative in action and will get the opportunity to help us improve the way we provide training. We plan to eventually assess every technology training and workshop we provide on campus. You can view a full list of technology training opportunities through the IT website, or visit HR’s full list of trainings and professional development programs on the HR website.

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Operating System Deployment Plans

El Capitan and Windows 10 Two major new versions of computer operating systems will be available for distribution on campus after the academic year ends: Mac OS X “El Capitan” (version 10.11), and Windows 10. Windows 10 is a major improvement over previous versions of Windows, while OS X “El Capitan” provides enhancements to the Mac platform and more integration with iOS devices such as the iPad and the iPhone. Apple has released updates on a yearly basis for the past few years. Although the timeframe for release of these products is in conflict with the academic cycle, we do welcome early adopters who are willing to help us identify any issues that others may encounter as we deploy the new operating systems. If you are interested in becoming an early adopter, please contact us at AskIT@amherst.edu.

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Moving Do you have an Amherst web page?

Do you have a web page at https://www3.amherst.edu/~your_username ? It’s time to move it to a new home!

An external audit of IT systems surfaced the critical need to retire one of our legacy systems, the “www3 server.” Due to issues with security and reliability, we need to retire the server within the next 6 months. Upon joining the Amherst College community, you were probably given space on this server. Over time many clubs, departments, and other campus organizations were also given space on this web server. If you have content on that site, you will hear from us soon to ask what you would like to do with your content. If you would like a new web space for your content, we are happy to set up a space for you and help you move the content if you need assistance. Any questions? Feel free to email AskIT@amherst.edu.

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Our Little Piece of Doomsday: The Bunker

The Bunker is a former military command facility built deep into the side of Bare Mountain. In 1994, Amherst College purchased the facilty and the doors opened to a new purpose, providing a safe library depository for the Five Colleges. We recently visited the Bunker, since we are planning an expansion of IT server operations and asset storage to the facilty. We took pictures of the facility and wanted to share them with the community.


AskIT: How to Contact Us

You may contact us to ask questions, make recommendations for future articles, or to request technology support by using the web form at http://AskIT.amherst.edu, by writing to AskIT@amherst.edu, or calling x2526.