Summer Training

SSCC's (early) summer training schedule has been posted, including introductions to Stata and R. We will have another round of training just before the fall semester starts (we'll schedule it just as soon as we can find out when departments are holding their activities for incoming students). Don't forget that SSCC training is now free to anyone at UW-Madsion.

Home Directory Quotas Increased

We've increased the starting quota for home directories on SSCC's file system from 5 gigabytes to 20 gigabytes, and the amount to which we can increase it on request from 20 gigabytes to 40 gigabytes. Technology marches on.

SSCC Account Renewal Time is Here

Don't forget to renew your SSCC account. SSCC's annual account renewal exercise lets us know which accounts are still needed and which aren't, and gives us information we need for budgeting purposes. Accounts which are not renewed will be closed on June 15th.

Windows 10 and Computer Security

The recent Presidential election highlighted just how dangerous today's computer security environment is. None of us want to see SSCC—or you personally—in the news because of a data breach, so as we move to Windows 10 as our standard version of Windows we'll also be taking several important steps to improve security. Similar steps to protect Macs, which are just as vulnerable, will be coming soon. This article will describe the steps we're taking and why they are necessary.

Hacking computers is no longer a hobby. Criminal enterprises have found a variety of ways to make money by hacking computers, from identity theft to holding data for ransom, and now state actors routinely hack computers to advance their policy goals. Fortunately, hacking SSCC is almost certainly a lower-priority than hacking the Democratic National Committee or even the College of Engineering. But it's not hard to think of reasons why we might be targeted, including our research, the data we have on the subjects of our research, and the personal information of our faculty, staff, and students.

Far more resources are being used to find ways to hack computers than ever before, and they're being used much more strategically. Teams pore over commonly used programs and operating systems to find vulnerabilities, which are then kept secret until they are needed to carry out an attack. (These are often called "zero day" vulnerabilities, because there are zero days between when the vulnerability becomes public knowledge and when it is used for attacks.) Social engineering is also being used much more effectively. While most "phishing" attempts are laughably easy to detect, they can be done well, as the recent Google Doc phishing attack demonstrated. "Spear-phishing," where the attacker spends some time researching the target in order to create a more plausible message, can be very effective. (Spear-phishing was used to acquire Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's email.)

Traditional security measures like anti-virus software aren't very effective in this environment because they are fundamentally reactive: they detect threats that have been previously identified. Instead, new security tools focus on making sure computers only do what they're supposed to do. This does mean you'll have less control over your computer, and SSCC staff may have to do some things for you that you are used to being able to do yourself. We will do our very best to resolve these situations as quickly as humanly possible. However, these tools are essential given today's threats. Some of them are required to comply with the University's new Departmental IT Security Baseline, but our fundamental motivation is that we want to keep your data safe. The consequences of a data breach, for you and the entire SSCC, could include losing the ability to use sensitive research data and even civil liability for damages caused.

Here are the changes you'll see when you receive an SSCC-managed computer with Windows 10:

You will no longer be a local administrator on your computer. This will prevent many malicious programs from installing themselves on your computer while you're using it. You'll still be able to install software from SSCC's Software Center or from Microsoft's Windows Store. Software Center now has more than thirty programs available, from Stata to Microsoft Office to iTunes, and more are being added regularly. If you need a program that is not available through Software Center, SSCC staff can install it for you. We know this will be inconvenient at times, but it has become a standard security practice and is required by the Departmental IT Security Baseline.

AppLocker will prevent programs from running that installed themselves without requiring administrator privileges. Since it's now standard practice for users not to be local administrators on their computers, a lot of malicious programs (and some legitimate programs) install themselves in user folders rather than system folders so they can be installed by non-administrators. AppLocker prevents programs that are not installed properly in system folders from running. It's especially important in stopping malware that tries to encrypt your data and hold it for ransom. Programs installed from Software Center or by SSCC staff will never be blocked by AppLocker.

Other tools won't affect how you use your computer, but will be protecting you behind the scenes:

Cisco AMP (Advanced Malware Protection) detects malware by watching for suspicious behavior. It can even start up an isolated virtual machine and run a suspicious program in it to see what it does in order to determine whether it is malware or not.

Windows Defender (the Windows 10 version of Microsoft Security Essentials) will continue to be SSCC's recommended anti-virus software. Campus policy requires that all computers connected to the UW-Madison network have up-to-date anti-virus software.

Credential Guard stores your passwords in a separate virtual machine, where they cannot be accessed by programs running on your computer.

BitLocker encrypts your hard drive whenever your computer is not in use so it will be unreadable if stolen. You might encounter BitLocker if you change your computer's hardware while it is turned off, making BitLocker think the hard drive has been stolen and plugged into a different computer—contact the Help Desk if this happens to you.

Separate Client and Server Networks means that all network traffic from regular computers in the Sewell Social Science Building goes through the building firewall before reaching SSCC's servers, protecting them from any malware on those computers.

Identity Finder scans computers for identifying information that should be stored in a secure location. Currently it only scans for Social Security Numbers. This is another Departmental IT Security Baseline requirement.