Ransomware Global Strike: The “WannaCry” Attack

 

 

In the height of the westward expansion into California, the “Wild West” became not only a place, but a term that described an entire cultural phenomenon. What made the west so wild were the apparent lawless territories that saw hostile takeovers, train and carriage robberies, kidnapping, and ransoming. Over time the west was settled and developed into new states with their own laws and regulations. The wild part of the west was no longer a threat, at least in the physical world. Today we have a new and almost lawless place, however this territory only exists online. Though there are plenty of companies and programs that work 24/7 to ensure safety online, there are still opportunities for malicious attacks to be carried out. The robberies and takeovers that plagued the westward expansion have now become digital.

A typical scam that you will see online is the email phishing that we talked about in a previous blog. These scams can be easy to avoid as long as the recipient is not engaging with the email or providing any personal information. Unfortunately that does not always protect online users from being attacked for their information. Ransomware has become a bigger threat that is hard to trace and causes an incredible amount of damage. Essentially it is software that takes all of a victim’s personal files and information and holds it for a ransom that must be paid. Recently a large ransomware attack has become global news, with at least 150 countries experiencing the same attack. The most affected victims were the small businesses, universities, and hospitals that were unable to protect themselves and had to either pay the ransom or risk losing all of their data (CNN Money). Reports from China, Germany, Japan, Russia, the US, and Spain confirmed that there had been attacks from the same ransomware and that they had taken the necessary precautions to try and stop its spreading.

Through a patch in the Microsoft Windows software, the ransomware “WannaCrypt” was able to target specific users and take over their systems. Ransomware works as a lock box for your data, keeping you from accessing any of your files or personal information unless you agree to the terms and conditions set up by the creator. Victims were told to use Bitcoin to pay for the return of their files (Microsoft). Many of the Windows users who were targeted were not using an updated, or a licensed version of this software making them even more vulnerable to patches that could not be fixed in the Microsoft updates. In the wake of this viral attack, Microsoft released a statement outlining the efforts they were making to avoid these attacks in the future. However, they also called on the public to become more aware of their own responsibility in updating their computers and backing up their information with an external drive and cloud software. Proactive actions are the key to being safe online. This idea of being proactive is also what stopped the ransomware attack from continuing to spread. A young cybersecurity student in the UK decided to look more closely at the software behind the attack and discovered a kill switch. The malware was using “a very long nonsensical domain name that the malware makes a request to – just as if it was looking up any website – and if the request comes back and shows that the domain is live, the kill switch takes effect and the malware stops spreading” (The Guardian). Once the student located the domain name, all he had to do was buy it. The domain cost $10.69 and was immediately registering thousands of connections every second; once it was purchased the malware was stopped in its tracks. Additionally once this domain was bought he was able to determine the IP addresses attached to the malware and reported them to the authorities. Though this was a great victory, in the world of Cybersecurity it is just a temporary fix. There are just as many entities creating malware as there are cybersecurity experts trying to stop them. What makes this malware attack so dangerous is that it can be replicated and reused at any time.

Backing up files, or storing information in the Cloud, and regularly updating your software are the best measures you can take to protect yourself from ransomware. As we mentioned in a previous blog on email phishing, it is imperative that you avoid any email from a company or bank that is asking for your personal information via email.

If you are interested in becoming a cybersecurity expert yourself, consider a degree from Coleman University. Perhaps it could be you that stops the next big cyber-attack in its tracks! Call (858) 499-0202 for information on our technology focused programs.

 

Phishing Isn’t a Sport

Six tips from Coleman University on how to keep your email safe from phishing scams.

Cybersecurity is a hot button topic lately. With the rumors of Russian infiltration into the United States Presidential election, and the exposure of private emails and photos onto sites such as WikiLeaks, the privacy that we covet online is becoming increasingly endangered. With the recent phishing scam going through Google Docs, it is imperative to remember the necessary steps to take online in order to ensure that you are not a target of a scam. First, let’s review what online scamming/phishing looks like, and the ways to spot one.

The most likely scam that you will encounter is a phishing email that can be sent to your accounts. Phishing is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a scam by which an e-mail user is duped into revealing personal or confidential information which the scammer can use illicitly.” An email may look legitimate with logos and graphics, but that does not mean that it should be taken at face value. For example, banks have taken a stance against phishing by only allowing account actions to be completed through their own websites or at a physical bank location. Your private bank will never ask you for passwords, social security numbers, account numbers, routing numbers, or any other private information via email (Telegraph.co.uk). Be on the lookout for emails that inform you of account changes or updates; if you did not authorize changes, immediately report this issue. The best course of action to protect yourself if you feel that you have been targeted by a scam is to document as much as you can with photos, emails, and phone calls. If an email comes into your inbox that seems suspicious call the company that supposedly sent it and ask about the email. Taking the initiative to validate the email before responding is one of the best ways to protect yourself from online threats. So what happened in regards to the Google Docs scam that went viral last week?

Gmail users were sent a notification from a known contact to click on a shared Google Doc. In order to access the document, the users had to authorize a transfer of contact information to the sender. Since the sender was perceived to be a friend or family member, there was little hesitation to allow this authorization. Routing the doc through an unauthorized Google Docs app prompted the Gmail user to allow the application to take control of their email information as a “management” tool (BGR.com). As a result, any personal information attached to contacts was downloaded and stored. Google reported shortly after this spamming went viral that over one million accounts were potentially compromised and the unauthorized application was shut down, as well as the email accounts that were the source of the scam. Information from email accounts linked to sites such as iTunes, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook were the most vulnerable to this scam. Any users who had encountered this phishing email were asked to change their emails and passwords immediately. An interesting thing to note is that a majority of these emails were addressed to “hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh@mailinator.com” (Forbes.com).

One of the first things that you should look for when it comes to identifying phishing emails is the sender’s name, the name that they have addressed the email to, and the language they have used. If there are typos, or if the language is not clear, that should be your first indication that the email in question is not valid. Most often the email address of the sender will look like an official domain, but there could be minor differences such as a period between words, or a domain extension from another country such as “.ru” or “br”, which can be hard to miss. If links are provided in the body of the email, hover your cursor over them and the destination for the link should pop up. If an IP address comes up instead of the domain name, then the link could be fraudulent. Another item to look for is the tone of the message. If you receive an email that has a threat such as closure of an account, that tone is your best indication that the message is fraudulent. A good source of examples for phishing is the Microsoft website, which also lists the information for phishing phone calls and how to report phishing activity.

Taking that extra moment to evaluate an email is your best line of defense in keeping your private information safe. Make sure to update your email passwords and delete unwanted or fraudulent emails as soon as possible. If you are interested in how online security works, and want to learn more about protecting online identities think about the possibility of a career in Cybersecurity. This field is growing fast and will be a lucrative degree option long into the future. Call Coleman today to schedule an appointment and speak with an admissions counselor at (858) 499-0202 Monday through Friday.

 

 

Reflection on a March: The Fight for Science

 

 

The March for Science was a nationwide effort to stop the defunding of science research and development as a way to celebrate Earth Day 2017.

This post was written by Norbert Kubilus, the President and CEO of Coleman University. We will be posting more guest blogs from our staff and faculty throughout the year so please subscribe for more. 

Earth Day 2017 was a wonderful day for a march in San Diego. I joined thousands of scientists and engineers, university professors and K-12 teachers, researchers and laboratory technicians, and people of all ages and from all walks of life in support of scientific research in the United States … and to protest proposed research funding cuts by the current administration. Organizers estimated that 15,000 people were at the San Diego March for Science start at the Civic Center. I would not be surprised if there were over 20,000 of us marching that day in San Diego, joining maybe a million more across the United States.

Hand made signs were the order of the day. Many signs reflected themes seen on signs across the nation. Others were truly local San Diego, which has one of the largest scientific research communities in the United States. One sign really struck me as we walked down Broadway to the Embarcadero. It read: “I have never seen polio … thanks to science.” The young woman carrying was from the Salk Institute and certainly born after polio became a disease of history in the United States. She never experienced a polio scare, and she could not know the memory she triggered for me. The March for Science 2017 quickly became very personal.

In the early 1950s, the polio epidemic in the United States reached a record high of 58,000 new cases in a single year, nearly three times the annual outbreak of the previous decade. Summer polio “scares” were real, resulting in public swimming pool closures and cancelling various community events. Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine came to market in 1955, and the March of Dimes launched its children’s vaccination campaign.

The memory triggered for me was of my first “march for science” — 62 years ago. On a crisp autumn day in 1955, my elementary school class marched — OK, walked — the half mile or so to the Public Health Office in Verona NJ with our teachers to receive our first polio shots. Thanks to Dr. Salk, his vaccine and the National Polio Immunization Program, the annual number of U.S. polio cases fell to 5,600 by 1957 and less than 200 by 1961.

Paralysis was a lifelong sentence for those who contracted and survived polio. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I first met victims of the polio epidemic, teenagers my own age who were left crippled for life by polio. As a young adult, I also had co-workers worked who were polio survivors. They all walked only with the assistance of heavy braces … and an apparent resentment for their fate.

On Earth Day, I remembered all of them as I was able to walk unencumbered along the San Diego habor. Thank you to young woman from the Salk Institute and her sign for the memory. And thank you Dr. Salk, your University of Pittsburgh research team and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis for giving us the first effective polio vaccine.

Norbert J. Kubilus, CCP MBCS is President & CEO of Coleman University, a private non-profit teaching university founded in 1963 and located in San Diego, California. Its degree programs prepare graduates for technology-focused careers. visit www.coleman.edu

Faculty Spotlight: Thomas Byrne (Cybersecurity Program)

Part of what makes Coleman University so unique to San Diego is the incredible faculty that we have on our campus. Technology and its development are not pastimes for our faculty; their careers and passions are built around it. We sat down with one of our Cybersecurity instructors, Mr. Thomas Byrne, to talk about his passion for technology and teaching. Hopefully we can show you something new and exciting about your instructors!

Mr. Byrne (far right) stands with his First Robotics Team at the Central Valley Regional in March of 2016. This photo was taken after the team had secured a spot in a semi-final for the second time that month!

1.So, Mr. Byrne, what drew you to technology and network security?

I grew up with technology and thinking back here are some of my memories: I was literally amazed at my first RED Led watch in the mid 1970’s as well as PONG, which I had hooked up to my TV. I thought to myself “this is the future, these digital readouts.”  Then one day in 1982 my father, who worked at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach as a Branch Chief Engineer, brought home a Compupro 8/16. It ran CP/M off of 8-inch floppies. One of my favorite games to play on the computer was “Colossal Cave Adventure,” which was a text based adventure game that made you visualize the world you were exploring. I spent a lot of time exploring that cave and one day I got stuck in the cave and actually phoned the author for a game hint in the help file. That was cool, knowing that I could phone the creator of the game. The hint was “Did you get the axe? Did you throw the axe at the Minotaur?” Ooops! I also read a lot when I was a kid, and I eventually came across tech magazines in the electronics store. I read an article and found out that you could punch a hole on the back of that huge floppy to make it double sided; it was so exciting to learn that I could double my storage!  I learned to program in Assembly, which meant manipulating the CPU stack, and I watched my dad write code to track expenses and even predict when airplanes were flying overhead as they landed in LAX. I also received my HAM radio license back when you had to learn Morse code and was communicating with people in Japan and Germany… so that’s how I sort of got hooked on technology, it was my fun time. As for network security, I like to be secure and wanted to learn how to maintain my systems against threats. I saw all the virus activity and did not want to lose my data, so I researched how to stay safe online and really liked understanding how the hackers think and what motivates them. I also learned how vulnerable this technology is, and I wanted to do something about it.

2.How long have you been teaching at Coleman? What inspired you to become a teacher?

I was hired as an Instructor in August of 2010. Before that I was a corporate trainer for Luxottica. I always was someone who could learn and then explain almost any topic and gain insights on it. I really like helping people understand difficult concepts in cybersecurity. This is a huge positive, as a lot of the material can be difficult until you understand it. I try to make it easy to understand, so that my students can remember the material down the road and make use of that knowledge. I try my best to cut through the noise to the essence of what’s really important to know.

3.Do you have a piece of advice or information that you want all of your students to know before they graduate?

There is a job for you, as the world certainly needs trained cybersecurity professionals. It will not be handed to you though. One piece of advice I have is to be very flexible in your careers and gravitate to the areas that interest you. Learn everything you can about security and technology; we live in amazing times and the whole world is going through a digital transformation right now. The world needs your help, so study hard and keep up with all the changes in technology and security. The Internet is a great human resource, so use it; learn how to find good sources of information and never stop learning. It’s very important to learn to interact with others in a positive way and become a good communicator. Be a positive person. Technology is hard for many so help them understand it.

4.Where do you go for the most accurate and up-to-date information on what is happening in technology?

I take advantage of my commute time and listen to podcasts. I’ve got my podcast apps, and I can tie into any podcast out there. I listen to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Security Podcasts, etc. It really comes down to about five companies that are at the head of technology development. It is all interesting to watch and hear, like a big game to see who will come out with the next trend.

5.What are some basic tactics that you would recommend to the public, who may not be fully aware of online cyber risks?

First of all, don’t believe in total privacy online. If you’re on the Internet regularly, you are not doing it privately. If you’re using the Internet you’re going to be in some database somewhere. In regard to keeping your own computers and other devices secure, try not to click on links that you don’t recognize, use two-factor authentication whenever possible, have a password manager for your personal emails and other log-ins, keep up with the news, and don’t go to websites that you can’t verify. Most importantly, don’t allow any action on your devices that you do not personally approve. So if an email comes up with a link that you do not know, reverse it, call the company directly and ask if they contacted you. You need to initiate the connection instead of assuming a provided link is good.

6.What are you involved in outside of the classroom that involves technology development?

Well, I am a mentor for First Robotics. My son wanted to start a robotics club at his high school with two friends, after seeing that other schools around the city, such as Hi Tech High had them. They started a robotics team for Mission Hills High School in San Marcos. I met with them and let them know that I wanted to help out, so I met all the parents of the other students and we worked together to start a robotics team. It’s a lot of work! You have to form the team, and it costs about $4000 to compete in these competitions, so that takes a lot of fundraising. You’re given parameters like the weight of the robots, which has to be 120 pounds, and the cost, which has to be less than $4000, and so on. So you need to get sponsors. We got started in the robotics competitions in San Diego four years ago, and our first project was a defensive robot which was required to have the ability for aerial assist. In that first competition we placed 23rd out of 60 teams, which was pretty high for a rookie team, considering that some of the other teams had been doing this for at least ten years. From there we ended up going to St. Louis to compete, because we won Rookie All Star; we were up against teams from across the nation, but there are also about 30 countries that do this every year as well. Right now there are about 6,000 teams globally that are a part of this competition. We were up against the best and that motivated us to come back even better the next time. So in the following years we have been semi-finalists in both the national and international competitions. This year we were semi-final and quarter-finalists. There are a lot of scholarships attached to this, so students can get money from Boeing and other companies who are looking for engineers to sponsor. Our team is so successful because we have so many mentors who specialize in every aspect of building and implementing.

7.What is an up and coming technology or technology trend that you are really excited about?

Well people like to say that my head is in the clouds, because I am so invested in cloud computing! This is the next paradigm shift in major technology. A cloud service run by major corporations like Google and Microsoft provides the advantage of a powerful storage facility, with massive processing power, and servers that can shift their computing power to adapt to any situation. In regards to hacking, people are going to start seeing the value of the cloud, because it offers more security at less expense, and it is consistently updated. The ability to share and store information will connect the world and give everyone access to technology.

 

We want to thank Mr. Byrne for taking the time to tell us about himself and his passion for technology. Keeping students motivated and engaged is a full-time job and there is a lot more beneath the surface here than you might think. Join us again next month for another spotlight on our incredible faculty at Coleman University! If you would like to know more about First Robotics and the team that Mr. Byrne is mentoring follow the links below.

https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc

https://www.facebook.com/team5137/

 

Game Development Capstone Presentation is a Huge Success!

 

What does it take to design and create a video game from scratch? Have you ever wondered what your ideal game would look like, or what you would want to see in a new game, or how long it would take to make your vision into a physical game? The students in our Game Development program took that dream and made it into a reality for their capstone presentation this month. Over the span of ten weeks, a student group came together to create their own game from beginning to end. This included story boarding, character design, background music development, character movement, and multiple game levels. We can only begin to appreciate the amount of work that went into this project! The capstone game is called “Savage Island”, and takes place on an isolated island overrun with dinosaurs that are hungry and looking for a human sized meal. Game players are put into a 2.5D map and have to fight their way through each level until they finally encounter The Boss, a massive T-Rex who will not go down easily! At their capstone presentation the designers discussed their original plan for the game and the challenges that they overcame to make this game a reality. Programs used to create this game include: Unity, Visual Studio, Source Tree, Trello, Photoshop, 3DS Max, zBrush, FreeSound, and Audacity (for the sound mixing and sampling). Each member of the development team took on a specific role in order to efficiently produce content for this game. From the concept art, background set up, and character movement, each aspect of the game was the responsibility of one of the four team members and when the game was presented to the audience it was clear that this was an incredible project. Overall the team discussed their work, and the various programs that they used to develop each piece that they were responsible for. The audience heard first-hand what skills and technologies the team members had to develop in order to complete the assignment, as well as what they plan to add to the game  After the initial presentation audience members were asked to play the game themselves and see close up how the mechanics of the game work and try to destroy as many dinosaurs as possible. Audience members were also encouraged to ask questions and some of our Coleman staff members who attended were thrilled to learn more about the game development process from the student’s point of view. What’s next for these game developers? We hope big and exciting things! Congratulations to these excellent students!!

There’s More to the Story Than You Think: Women in Technology

March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the contributions and movements that have come from women throughout history. Think about what you take for granted every day without thinking of where it came from or who invented it; would you immediately think a woman had created it? Take the modern medical syringe, an item that is now in every doctor’s office across the globe. The first patent for the single plunger syringe was given to a woman, Leticia Greer, in New York in the year 1899 (you can see the original patent application here). In 1966 a woman by the name of Stephanie Kwolek invented the first prototype for Kevlar, the material that would become integral in crash helmets, radial tires, and eventually bulletproof vests (learn more about her invention here). We also owe a lot of our modern inventions in computing and coding to women who were passionate about, and dedicated to improving, technology.

The first documented coding concept for a machine was invented by the Mathematician Ada Lovelace, who had become fascinated with Charles Babbage’s design for a computing machine. The Analytical Engine was conceptualized to perform long and complex mathematical equations in a short amount of time. Using the pattern designs from the Jacquard Loom, Lovelace conceptualized a set of “cards” that would have holes in them that would correspond with numbers and patterns established by the creator. These cards would be read through the holes by the machine and in turn produce a numerical answer. The notes on this card design that Lovelace published in a Scientific Memoirs journal are now considered to be the first plan for a “coding” system for a machine. The Analytical Engine could have been programmable, thus making it customize-able for various types of computing and the punch cards could then also be reused. Initially Ada Lovelace imagined that this engine would be used to create and play music, as well as do complex mathematics. Though the Analytic Engine was never constructed, the notes that Lovelace published set the ground work for the future of programming and computing. For more information on Ada Lovelace and her programming design, click here or visit The Ada Project website.

Another pioneer in computing and programming is Grace Hopper, an Admiral in the United States Navy. Have you ever “de-bugged” your computer? Well that term came from Grace Hopper herself! After removing a moth from the Mark I computer and taping it to her notebook, the term stuck and has been a part of our culture ever since. Hopper was born at the beginning of the 20th century in New York City. After completing her Bachelor’s in Mathematics, she went on the Yale to complete her Master’s and then her Ph.D. She taught for a number of years until she enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve where she was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project being researched at Harvard University. She was then later named as a Research Fellow. Her work was dedicated to the first large-scale computer named the Mark I, and would go on to help develop the Mark II and Mark III. After working with numerical code in computing, Hopper began work on the first computer compiler and computer programming language referred to as COBOL. It was her idea to start collecting programming commands for a shared library of codes in order to save time and reduce programming errors on projects. The collection of commands using binary code allowed for the computers to begin to understand basic phrases in English and then translate them into binary. She is called “Amazing Grace” for a reason! Learn more about her life and her work here, at the US Navy website.

Mathematicians have been integral in computer and science technologies and even space exploration. During the Space Race in the 1960s, Katherine Johnson paved the way for space flight and helped NASA put Astronauts into orbit, and put them on the Moon. Her story begins in West Virginia where she was born in 1918. From an early age she was gifted with incredible curiosity and determination to succeed. She moved ahead several grades when she was in middle school, and started high school at the age of 13. She graduated from West Virginia State College with honors and began a career teaching mathematics in 1937. By 1939, she was invited to become one of the first African American citizens to attend the Graduate program at the recently opened West Virginia University. Though she left the program early to marry and start a family, she still continued to teach math in local public schools. In 1952 she applied to become a computer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley Laboratory. At the time this computing section was all African American; science was still segregated. After her first two weeks, she was promoted to work on the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division where she analyzed data from flight tests. After the successful launch of Sputnik from Russia, her work became much more in demand.  As NACA (soon to be NASA) began to frantically develop a plan to put men into space, Johnson became an integral part of the team to calculate and analyze data in order to make that happen. Her calculations were used for the Freedom 7 mission in 1961 that put a human into orbit around the Earth, which led to her development of a set of calculations and equations that would make it possible to accurately determine the landing point of a space craft. However, her most famous project was the orbital mission of John Glenn, who demanded that she do the calculations for his orbit despite the mechanical machines that had been put in place to do all of it. He trusted her mind and her calculations with his life, and would not go into space until she had confirmed that the machine’s results were accurate. She did all of the thousands of calculations by hand, using only her desktop mechanical calculating machine, which was at the time the equivalent to a basic calculator. She was also asked to work on the plans for the moon landing and her calculations helped to ensure that the Lunar Lander would synch with the Command and Service Module. After 33 years in Langley, she retired. In 2015, at the age of 97 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. You can read more about her on the NASA website.

We owe a lot to the women who have taken their passions and followed them into greatness. These three women are just the tip of the iceberg on a long list of female led technology development throughout history. The next time you turn on your laptop, or use your phone to calculate, think of these women who had to create these technologies that we freely use today. For more on these women, click on the links provided or go to computerscience.org for more information on other women who have made history and the issues that women in technology are still facing.

Coleman University Students are Chosen as Semi-finalists in Robotics Development Competition for Mars Exploration!

Chase Thurmond (top right) is leading the ENVI team, along with Coleman students Hao Yu and Anthony Anderson (far left), in their autonomous robot project for Mars exploration. This team will be working on this throughout the spring in order to meet the summer 2017 due date.

Technology is not a static field; it changes daily, hourly, and minute by minute. Technology development isn’t even restricted by Earthly aspirations; developers are now looking to the skies again as their next target. Unmanned ground vehicles have become the latest topic for development and putting these autonomous droids on Mars is no longer just a dream. In early 2017 the Mars City Design Competition put out a call for student teams around the world and across the nation to submit their ideas for an autonomous robot or program that centers on the theme of “transportation” that could be used to help colonize Mars. Applicants had to submit a video explaining their project and what they felt it could contribute to Mars exploration, as well as a breakdown of how they would build their project and what materials they would use. Students from Coleman University, with the help of the expert engineers at ENVI, and lead by student Chase Thurmond, submitted the ENVI design for an autonomous and cooperative robot flock.  The ENVI team, hosted at Coleman University, was chosen as a semi-finalist!! Out of 135 applications, this project and its team of developers were chosen to be one of just 15 teams competing for the chance to see their projects come to life this summer and possibly become part of the race to Mars! Teams from all over the world including France, the UK, and South America are in this competition, vying for the top spot and global recognition as a leading developer in Mars exploration. Students from our Software Development, Cybersecurity, and Graduate Studies Program came together to build the first engineering concept for a cooperative “flock” of unmanned land robots that would essentially become the eyes and hands of astronauts or colonists living and working on Mars. The overall goal of Mars City Design is to promote the development of sustainable and efficient tools for a successful living community not just on Mars, but on future planets yet to be discovered and explored. The semi-finalists chosen for this project will be presenting a teaser of their design and vision at a fundraiser in Los Angeles on May 25th. We at Coleman University want to congratulate the students who took interest in an extracurricular opportunity to put this project into motion, and the dedicated team at ENVI who are mentoring them through this journey. We look forward to seeing the finished product! You can find more information on the other designs, previous winners, and track to competition from their website: https://marscitydesign.com/news.

Coleman University President is invited to Speak at the IEEE Life Member Luncheon

The esteemed Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) held a luncheon for their Life Members in San Diego in early March. The Life Member status for IEEE is awarded to members who have been an active part of the organization for a certain number of years while maintaining a positive status within the IEEE community. The Life Member Association invited the President of Coleman University, Norbert Kubilus, to be a Keynote Speaker for this event and to discuss the dedication of the University to fostering technology development in San Diego. The agenda for the luncheon speakers included topics such as robotics in military and commercial fields, renewable energy, automotive developments, and the benefits of increased technology in medical fields. In his Keynote, the President reflected on the history of Coleman in San Diego and the legacy that the university has maintained as an influencer in technology. The President then outlined the steps being taken to bring the latest developments in Software Development and Cybersecurity to the Coleman campus and integrate them into the curriculum. Mr. Kubilus discussed the efforts being made at Coleman to bring experiences to its students that enhance the curriculum, which is continuously developed through input from professionals in technology fields and the instructors at the university. The keynote closed with an invitation from the President for the Life Members to visit the Hornet’s Nest Indoor Drone Testing facility run by ENVI. The members were excited to be given the opportunity to see for themselves an example of the technological developments that Coleman is fostering and the extracurricular experiences that are available to its students.

Coleman University Hosts Esteemed Tech San Diego Data Series Presentations

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Coleman University does its best to host events that our students can sit in on, and ones that will directly benefit out students through professional development. Follow our Coleman Calendar, The Coleman Post newsletter, and look for announcements on campus to find out about all of the student opportunities each month. 

Our University has been successful throughout its many years due to the relationships that we have curated with local companies and institutions that share our vision of community engagement with progressing technology. In February of this year we worked with a local organization that also seeks to advance understanding of technology not just for our city, but also nationally. Tech San Diego has been a purveyor of the San Diego technology community since 1994. Their mission is to foster the growth of collaborations between industry, education, and government as a support structure for our community. Tech San Diego supports various industries such as: Cybersecurity, Big Data (analytics), Robotics, IOT, Defense, Telecommunications, and Cloud Infrastructure. This month they hosted two events on our campus centered on the future of technology development in Big Data Analytics and Cybersecurity. On February 23, 2017 Ramkumar Ravichandran presented his speech on his experience as Director of Analytics for VISA and using Teradata in major data analytics. Teradata is database management system founded in 1979 that has become a leader in the Analytics of Things (AoT) for major corporations (Teradata.com). Mr. Ravichandran drives Visa’s actionable insights derived from Business Analytics, Advanced Analytics and A/B testing. He discussed how to build high performing data science/analytics teams and the best practices for delivering results to drive business impact. The presentation was attended by representatives from Big Data companies and students from local universities as well as Coleman. The second event was a round table discussion on the current state of cybersecurity in major company networks led by Stephen Cobb. This round table was a deep look at what is on the horizon for threats to not just personal information but also to companies that handle mass amounts of data daily. Attendees were able to ask questions about what threats are trending now, and how to promote “cyber-awareness” within a corporate community.

Events such as these are open to Coleman students and Alumni who are interested in registering, and the university encourages our community to attend. Promoting technology awareness is more than being in a classroom, it is also about the extracurricular events that allow for public participation with accurate information. If you would like to attend more events such as Tech San Diego keep an eye on the Coleman Post newsletter for updates on what is coming to campus, follow the Coleman University blog, and look for the digital displays on campus for daily reminders of upcoming events.

Avoiding Failure with Higher Education Technology Projects

I am frequently asked for a definition of a “successful” technology project. As a career senior technology executive, university educator, and now university chief executive, I have a deceptively simple answer. A successful technology project is one that is delivered on time, that comes within budget, and that meets or exceeds stakeholders’ expectations. Yet according to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company in collaboration with the University of Oxford: “On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted.”1 When I look around higher education, I would say these numbers are optimistic.

Why Higher Ed Technology Projects Fail
The easy answer to explain why technology projects in higher education fail is to place blame on ineffective project management and lack of communication. Technology project postmortems generally fail to get to the root causes of project failure—probably because true reflection means having to deal with the painful realization that the institution was ill-equipped to undertake the project in the first place. From nearly four decades of technology project-management experience, I see five main risk factors that lead to technology project failure. These risk factors are interrelated, and a failed project typically exhibits two or more of these factors.

Inadequate or Incomplete Definition of Requirements
In this age of agile project management, we seem to have lost appreciation for having a requirements document that details such items as the purpose for the technology project (including financial ROI), mandatory and desired functionality, and data conversion and retention requirements. In essence, what are the institutional, functional, and/or programmatic outcomes that the technology project must achieve? These outcomes form the basis for a project rubric, which can be used to evaluate aspects such as competing technologies (or systems), mode of implementation (e.g., “build versus buy” or a local server-based solution versus a cloud-based one), conversion schemes, documentation, and training. Without this rubric, how does one know whether or not this technology project has a chance of succeeding?

Lack of Stakeholder Involvement
I cannot overemphasize the importance of stakeholder involvement in a technology project. All too often, the technology department of a college or university initiates a technology project—and obtains funding for it—without involving administration, faculty, staff, students, and others who will potentially be affected by the outcomes of the technology project. Collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders and the technology organization are keys to project success.

Two decades ago, I was engaged by a college to “rescue” a student information system (SIS) conversion that was late and over budget. It was in month eight of what was supposed to be a nine-month project, yet no academic or cocurricular departments knew anything about the project. They were not involved in the selection of the new system, were never scheduled for training, were never asked to validate the student data being converted, and were never included in any other aspect of the project. The technology organization’s rationale for this lack of stakeholder involvement went something like this: “They are too busy to be involved. We will train them when the technology team is ready to deliver the new SIS.”

In another, more recent SIS implementation, the institution’s technology organization proceeded with a “dry conversion” from a legacy homegrown system to an integrated vendor-supplied system. Thirty months later, and eighteen months after “completing” the SIS implementation, the institution is still struggling with the new system. Why? Without stakeholder involvement up front and during the project, the new SIS was made to mimic inefficient workflows based on the legacy system, data interrelationships were not understood by the technology folks (resulting in numerous data-related issues), and stakeholders again received “just in time” training that was ineffective.

Unrealistic Schedule
Higher education is not alone in its tendency to set schedules at the top of the organization. Some schedules reflect the reasonable constraints of a semester or term systemfor example, upgrading computer lab equipment over spring break, implementing a new financial system based on the fiscal year, or deploying a new admissions system over a semester break. Fitting implementation into the first available break in the academic or operating schedule is not a valid reason to rush a technology project.

Many higher education administrators (like their counterparts in the private sector) are unfamiliar with what it takes to deliver a technology project, especially the time needed to perform data quality control and to train faculty and staff to a level of proficiency with the new technology. Yes, taking longer to correctly complete a technology project has an associated cost, but so does delivering one that is doomed to fail. As I used to tell my software engineering students: Spending $1 to catch and correct an issue in the requirements stage of a project will avoid the $1,000 that will be required if the issue is left undetected until after implementation.

Scope Creep and Inadequate Change Control
Without a project rubric, it is difficult to contain the scope of a technology project. With overactive stakeholder involvement, there is a tendency to add functions and features—or to turn on options—that at best are a marginal improvement to the system being delivered. The results are cost overruns, missed project deliverables, and schedule changes. Every technology project should have a formal change-control process to handle implementation realities and stakeholder requests. One reasonable way to deal with requested changes is to create a priority list of those requests that can be accommodated in the initial implementation and those that will come later.

Ineffective Documentation and Training
The project rubric should be the foundation for ensuring the adequacy and effectiveness of documentation and training. Vendor documentation and training should be examined for every function and feature listed in the project rubric; institution-developed documentation and training should emanate from the project rubric. It’s never too early to start scheduling training for stakeholders based on their need to know or use the new technology. Here again, collaboration is essential.

Honing a Successful Technology Project Team
Mitigating project risk factors is a major part of avoiding technology project failures, but doing so will not be enough. A successful project requires strong project-management skills, frequent and clear communications with stakeholders, and a well-functioning project team. Honing a successful team to undertake a technology project requires preparation, leadership, and internal communication.

A technology project team brings together people who may or may not have worked together before. Some come from the technology organization, some are stakeholders, and still others are consultants or vendor representatives. It is extremely important that every member of the team knows his or her role and responsibilities and how to communicate within the team and has received an overview of the project itself, including goals, assumptions, limitations, constraints, deliverables, and deadlines. Conveying this information is the job of the project manager. Regardless of how many times these team members have worked together, this orientation is absolutely necessary.

Also key to preparing the project team is providing team members with the resources they will need to undertake the project—for example, hardware, software, Internet access, documentation, and training. Too often, higher education technology projects launch with insufficient resources, in part due to budgetary constraints. Time is another needed resource. Team members must have the dedicated release time necessary to spend on the project. This is extremely important for faculty and staff stakeholders, who will find it difficult to juggle project duties with everyday teaching or office responsibilities.

When a problem arises with the project—and it will—the team members and the project manager need to know about it and work together to get the project back on course. The project manager must anticipate problems, take corrective action, and help the team learn from the problems and issues encountered. Protecting the team from untoward external influence or pressure is also a key role for the project manager.

Continuous, positive reinforcement for team members can go a long way to moving the project forward successfully. There can be a lot of excitement and enjoyment in achieving the smallest of outcomes on a technology project. Acknowledgment of hitting project milestones helps build team morale, especially when the final deliverable is not yet in sight.

Takeaway
So what is the best way to avoid technology project failures in higher education?

  • Have a strong project rubric based on stakeholder involvement. It will be the foundation for the project plan, documentation, and training, as well as ongoing communication with the stakeholders.
  • Create a realistic schedule for the project and equip the project team with the necessary resources for success, including dedicated release time for this project.
  • Commit stakeholder resources for testing and training.
  • Empower the project manager to move the project forward without untoward pressure to change project scope or deliverables.

Finally, communicate … communicate … communicate!

 

Note

  1. Michael Bloch, Sven Blumberg, and Jürgen Laartz, “Delivering Large-Scale IT Projects on Time, on Budget, and on Value,” McKinsey & Company, October 2012.

 

© 2016 Norbert J. Kubilus. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.