Yearly Archives: 2014

Caution: What you’re about to read may make you want to turn off your computer, bury it, sprinkle it with holy water and return to a pre-1990s lifestyle that was devoid of all things cyber.

De-bunking popular misconceptions about cybersecurity can be a wake-up call for casual computer users that your machine is quite vulnerable to those with bad intentions. Spammers, phishers and those who like to spread viruses for the “sport” of it are just some of the individuals that your unit needs to be protected from in cyberspace. The recent hacking of the Target computer network – which has led to the breach of credit and debit card information for an estimated 40 million of the company’s customers and other personal data (email addresses, phone numbers, etc.) of up to 70 million others – has sparked concern and outrage from the public.

But what kind of risk do people face with their home computers? Do hackers have any interest in your computer? The answer is yes.

Computers at work, school and home are all vulnerable to attack from hackers.
Computers at work, school and home are all vulnerable to attack from hackers.

Today, Wise Words launches a 3-part series devoted to the topic of cybersecurity. Part I focuses on the myth that hackers are not interested in your personal computer because you don’t have any top secret information on it. In Part II, we will explore other common misconceptions of cybersecurity.

But don’t worry. In Part III, Wise Words, through the insight of Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department, will offer steps that the average computer user can take to minimize their exposure to hackers. Southern recently revamped its M.S. degree program in computer science to place increased emphasis on cybersecurity and software development.

Part I:

Many people believe that because their machine is only for personal use, hackers have little or no interest in trying to compromise their unit. After all, we frequently hear about incidents involving hacking into computers belonging to government agencies, businesses, large institutions and political entities. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, trade secrets, candidate strategies and classified documents can be at stake.

But what would anyone want with a computer filled with pictures of someone’s family dog, Little League schedules and the latest standings of their Fantasy Football league?

“Hackers value your computer for its resources, regardless of whether it has valuable information or not” says Lisa Lancor, chairwoman of Southern’s Computer Science Department.

“In fact, they will secure your computer after they have compromised it so that no other hacker can own your machine. It’s a sad state of affairs when hackers start patching and securing your system for you.”

What Makes Your Computer so Attractive to Hackers

Lancor points to several purposes:

  • Storage devices – Hackers may want to store their bootlegged movies, illegal pornography and other contraband on your hard drive. “This way, you run the risk of getting caught with the illegal content and not them,” she says.
  • Processing power – Hackers may want to use your processing power for a variety of reasons. Some examples include using it to help solve computationally difficult problems, such as finding the next prime number (millions of digits long); generating Bitcoins, a decentralized, globally recognized e-currency that requires significant computer processing power; and folding proteins to help researchers understand diseases. “Solutions to computationally difficult problems can provide a big payout,” Lancor says. “And producing Bitcoins can be big business since one Bitcoin at today’s market price is currently worth about $950. Learn more about how bitcoin work via”
  • Service provider – Your computer could be become an unwitting “spam machine.” The hacker may have set it up to deliver spam messages.
  • Use as part of a bot network – Bot is a shortened name for Web robot, a program that conducts repetitive functions automatically. Like many things on the Internet, a bot can be used for good or ill. Hackers sometimes take control of others’ computers to become part of a gigantic botnet composed of thousands or millions of compromised computers that are controlled by a “bot master,” or a “command and control” server located anywhere around the world. “Underground Web-based storefronts sell botnets of 1,000 U.S.-only compromised computers for the current market price of about $1,000,” Lancor says.
  • Launching pad – Hackers are usually savvy enough not to use their own computer to launch an attack. That’s what your computer can be for, just in case law enforcement traces the attack back to the launching point. “The FBI might come knocking on your door because an attack was launched against the White House or National Security Agency from your IP address,” Lancor says.
  • Free ride into your bank – Those who do some online banking or make other financial transactions via a compromised computer, watch out! Your machine can include a keylogger,  a piece of surveillance software that records every key stroke on a machine and can be used to decipher even the most secure passwords.
  • Ransom — Believe it or not, some hackers have taken to encrypting your photos and documents and holding them “hostage” with a key that only they know. They tell you to deposit Bitcoins into their anonymous e-wallet in exchange for decrypting your files.

Scary, huh?

Coming soon:
Part II — Other myths about cybersecurity

    Southern Connecticut State University’s Office of International Education (OIE) is proud to present the university’s 2014 Summer Program Abroad offerings. 

    Longstanding summer programs in Spain and Guatemala (which Professor of World Languages Carlos Arboleda has run for 24 years and Professor of Public Health William Faraclas for 25 years, respectively) are joined by returning programs in Paris (Professor Camille Serchuk, art history, and Professor Luke Eilderts, French); Tuscany (Professor Pina Palma, Italian); Iceland (Professor Patrick Heidkamp, geography); Rome (Professor Leon Weinmann, English); Bermuda (Professor Scott Graves, science education and environmental studies); and China (Professor Yan Liu, information and library science).  In addition to its existing programs, Southern is launching two new summer programs in Brazil (Professor Jordano Quaglia, Portuguese) and Armenia (Professor Anahit Ter-Stepanian, art history), along with a spring recess program in Jamaica (Professor Antoinette Towle, nursing).

    The expansion of Southern’s courses abroad is part of a university-wide initiative to bring global perspectives into the classroom and to increase opportunities for students to participate in study and internship programs abroad.  The goal of this initiative is to prepare Southern’s students for success in an increasingly global workplace, as study abroad ranks highly on prospective employers’ list of desired qualifications.  SCSU President Mary Papazian’s 2012 inauguration speech, in which she declared global engagement a priority for the university, has brought tremendous momentum to this initiative.

    Students interested in participating in any of these programs should contact OIE’s interim director, Dr. Erin Heidkamp (203-392-6756), or the faculty trip leader(s) listed below.  Students should also inquire at their home institution about course transferability.

    Spain Program (June 27 to July 27): Options to study Spanish civilization, culture, and language. Contact Prof. Carlos Arboleda.

    Guatemala Program (July 27 to August 10): Undergraduate or graduate course options in international field studies in health.  Contact Prof. William Faraclas.

    Paris Program (June 30 to July 31): Art and Architecture in Paris and/or French language course. Contact Prof. Camille Serchuk and Prof. Luke Eilderts.

    Tuscany Program (June 30 to July 30): Literature of Medieval Europe. Contact Prof. Pina Palma.

    Iceland Program (June 1 to June 17): Economic Geography and Field Techniques. Contact Prof. Patrick Heidkamp.

    Rome Program (May 26 to June 19): The Classical Tradition in Western Literature, and Literature of the New Testament. Contact Prof. Leon Weinmann.

    Bermuda Program (August 4 to August 15): Special Topics in Marine and Environmental Studies. ContactProf. Scott Graves.

    China Program (May 21 to June 4): Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Informatics. Contact Prof. Yan Liu.

    Brazil Program (June 14 to July 5): Portuguese 100 or 101.  Contact Prof. Jordano Quaglia.

    Armenia Program (May 22 to June 6): Special Topics in Armenian Art. Contact Prof. Anahit Ter-Stepanian.

    Jamaica Program (March 15 to March 22): Understanding Global Healthcare. Prof. Antoinette Towle.


      When one is on a journey, Kalu Ogbaa says, one pays attention. His chronicle of his journey through life – the recently published Carrying My Father’s Torch: A Memoir – reveals the SCSU English professor’s attentiveness to detail as well as to the big picture, as he tells the story of his odyssey from a small village in Nigeria to his current life as a university professor in America.

      Referring to the title of the book, Ogbaa says the nature of the symbolic torch is threefold: maintaining family tradition, avoiding bringing any disgrace to the family and always striving to achieve in whatever one does. The book fleshes out these three central values as it follows Ogbaa from Umuchiakuma to New Haven. Along the way he lived through poverty, civil war, ethnic violence and “postcolonial malaise” in his homeland, while also struggling with his relationship to his father, whom he calls “both an exacting taskmaster and a beloved ideal.”

      Ogbaa explains that he wrote this book largely because he wants to tell the stories of his life so that they live on after he is gone. He has 11 children, nine of whom are in America, and four grandchildren. One son died in 2009. He wanted his children to know more about him and about their heritage, but he intended to present an example to other readers as well. “I left my native land to come [to America],” he says. “I am getting old. Part of my family is in Nigeria and part in this country. Every achievement I have made can encourage not only my family members to strive and succeed in what they do, but also others who read the book. They can adapt the lessons from the book to their own lives.”

      Indeed, Ogbaa hopes that the book will be particularly helpful to rapidly Americanized immigrants. He intends for it to be instructive to other young people with backgrounds in poverty, to show them that it is possible — with hard work and struggle — to become successful in life. “My Christian upbringing emphasized moral living and hard work,” he says. “My background challenges me to work harder and achieve more.”

      In spite of having grown up in poverty and lived through the devastating Nigeria-Biafra War, Ogbaa says the most difficult challenges in his life have come from very personal losses. His divorce from his first wife affected him deeply, and the accidental death of his son, Ndubuisi, in 2009 was very painful. “It was the worst trauma I’ve ever been through,” he says. Yet, Ogbaa adds, “even though he’s not here with me, his memory is with me because he was very close to me. To have had him for the years I did should make me happy that I had him for as long as I did. As a Christian, you learn to live with the happy and not so happy events.”

      Although he has published a number of books over the course of his career, Ogbaa says that writing a book as personal as a memoir can be difficult.  “You begin to relive painful events that you went through in the past,” he says. “You recall the love and the lessons of life and the sense of direction you received from your parents and friends who are now deceased.” Ogbaa has kept diaries for years, so while he had to research some areas in preparation for writing the memoir, he was also able to go back to the diaries. “When you have the kinds of experiences I have had, the experience is always internalized,” he says, “so you can call it up and give it a form in writing.”

      A member of the Southern faculty since 1992, Ogbaa earned his B.A. at the University of Nigeria, his M.A. at The Ohio State University and his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. His areas of specialization include African literature, African-American literature and modern poetry. He has published several books about Igbo people, Nigerians and Africans, among them A Century of Nigerian Literature: A Select Bibliography, The Nigerian Americans (The New Americans), Understanding Things Fall Apart: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents and Blood and Bravery: Voices of Biafran Veterans of the Nigeria-Biafra War.

      Critic Tony Morris, of Armstrong Atlantic State University, wrote of Carrying My Father’s Torch: “From the wrestling matches in which he tussled as a young boy living in an Igbo village where the winds swirled against udara trees during the West African harmattan season, to his early Christian schooling, through the horrors of the Biafra War and his eventual move to the United States where he earned his PhD, Kalu Ogbaa’s memoir . . . is a moving, unflinchingly candid look at the life and times of a Nigerian man living in the country during one of its most tumultuous eras.”

      Ogbaa believes he has passed the torch to his children. He speaks with pride of the achievements of his oldest son, Michael, a bank manager in Nigeria; his second oldest son, Ikenna, a medical director at a pharmaceutical company; and his oldest daughter, Nneka, a medical doctor. When he gave the book to his elder son, he autographed it and wrote the message: “The torch is now passed on to you.”

      Oink, oink. It’s baaaaack!

      The H1N1 flu virus — commonly known as the “Swine Flu” — put a scare into U.S. public health and medical professionals starting in the spring of 2009. Public health specialists, fearing the potential for one of the worst flu outbreaks in memory, had raced against the clock that year to develop a vaccine for that form of the flu so that it could be ready for the fall. The general flu vaccines that had been prepared did not include H1N1 because it was not predicted to be a widespread threat until after those vaccines were produced.

      And while there was a pandemic, it was not as widespread or as virulent as many had feared.

      Fast forward 4 years. After a brief “hiatus,” H1N1 has returned. And this time it has gone “mainstream,” generating relatively little media attention compared with 2009. Yet, it has been the dominant strain during this flu season. When people talk about the flu this season, they are almost certainly talking about H1N1. The reduced media visibility may be due, in part, to the fact that this year’s general flu vaccines offer some protection against the Swine Flu. Thus, there is no panic within the public health community.

      The 'Swine Flu' -- which made headlines when it caught public health officials by surprise when it surfaced in 2009 -- is back. The H1N1 virus is the dominant strain of flu this season, but public health officials are ready this time with vaccines that include some protection against the bug.
      The ‘Swine Flu’ — which made headlines when it caught public health officials by surprise when it surfaced in 2009 — is back. The H1N1 virus is the dominant strain of flu this season, but public health officials are ready this time with vaccines that include some protection against the bug.

      The symptoms are largely the same as the other, garden-variety versions of the flu of years past. It usually involves a sore throat, cough, fever, chills and fatigue that can be extreme. Vomiting and nausea are sometimes associated with it.

      But what distinguishes the Swine Flu from other flu bugs is the target audience. While the very young and the elderly are generally more vulnerable to the flu, the Swine Flu seems to target teens and young adults more heavily than older people. Experts believe this may be because many individuals born before 1950 were exposed to Swine Flu-like viruses early in their lives, and therefore have developed some immunity to the H1N1 strain.

      This dog knows what to do in case of flu.
      This dog knows what to do in case of flu.

      So, how can you avoid catching the Swine Flu? Although there are no guarantees, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances, according to Dr. Diane Morgenthaler, director of Southern’s health and wellness center.

      She strongly recommends consulting with your doctor about getting a flu vaccine. While there are some people who should not get it for health reasons, most individuals probably should, Morgenthaler says. College students often have the option of checking with their campus health services.

      “It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect,” she says. “But we haven’t reached the peak of flu season yet, so there is still time.”

      Morgenthaler’s suggestions also include:

      • Consistently use good hand washing techniques and make frequent use of hand sanitizers, especially after touching common areas, such as door knobs, light switches and remote controls.
      • Consider a fist bump, instead of a handshake. If you do shake hands – and especially if the other person shows signs of being sick – wash your hands thoroughly. Or, at least, use a hand sanitizer.
      • Eat well and get plenty of sleep. You want to keep your immune system sharp in case you are exposed to the virus.
      • Avoid crowded places when possible.

      And what if you suspect you might already have caught the flu?

      “Antiviral medication may be helpful, especially in the first 48 hours,” Morgenthaler says.

      “Most people are better within 1 to 2 weeks using over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cough drops, antihistamines, salt water gargles and by drinking lots of fluids. But don’t spread the virus around. If you are sick, stay home if at all possible. Most bosses, professors and teachers will understand.”

      Stay well!

        The Computer Science Department has restructured its Master of Science degree program, replacing its previous tracks with those having more relevance in today’s tech landscape: network and information security (cybersecurity) and software development.

        “Previously, the M.S. program was designed primarily for students who had earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science,” said Lisa Lancor, graduate coordinator for the department. “But we had been getting increased interest from individuals who had bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines and wanted to move into the computer field. We have students who majored in music, political science and other disciplines not closely related to computer science. So, we revamped the program to make it more flexible.”

        Among the changes enacted is the establishment of a single prerequisite course, instead of three such courses. The new prerequisite is a four-credit course on computer programming and data structures. Students then take 12 core credits, as well as 18 credits in either of the two tracks. Students are then required to pass a capstone, typically a six-credit thesis.

        One of the new courses offered in the cybersecurity track is “Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing,” where students learn to test whether networks are secure and how to enhance that security.

        “There is a huge need for individuals who have an expertise in this area,” Lancor said. “The number of companies and organizations whose websites are hacked is growing all the time. These companies want to hire individuals who can detect and fix these security issues, but there really is a shortage of such people.”

        Lancor said companies actually hire individuals to try to break into their network system (without causing any damage). The idea is that if they can hack into it, the system needs to be upgraded and fixed. “As cyber attacks become more sophisticated, demand will increase for workers with security skills,” she said.

        Lancor pointed to U.S. Department of Labor projections that indicate employment of network and computer systems administrators (which includes security specialists) is expected to increase by 23 percent from 2008 to 2018. Similarly, the department projects that the number of computer software engineers and computer programmers will increase by 21 percent in that same decade.

        Happy New Year, everyone!

        It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we launched Wise Words. Throughout the year, we explored a wide variety of topics that we hope have proven to be both interesting and informative. During that time, the blog has received more than 6,000 views. Thank you for your stopping by!

        Happy New Year!
        Happy New Year!

        We look forward to continue sharing insightful posts with you in the coming year. Whether you’re a student, a parent or a member of the general public, we invite you to check us out in 2014. We strive to make the blog an even better resource for the community.

        Our Jan. 4, 2013 post (our very first) talked about keeping New Year’s resolutions. If you never read it, or even if you have, we thought it might be worth checking out.

        We wish all of our readers a happy, healthy and productive new year!