UPDATE: UAB IT and HSIS have put together resources for mitigating the threat of Meltdown and Spectre. Please refer to the resource page for more details.

UAB IT and HSIS are strongly urging IT professionals, staff, faculty and students to update browsers and system software to combat two serious computer flaws known as “Meltdown” and “Spectre” as soon as updates become available.

These vulnerabilities are caused by design defects in the hardware of most modern computing devices, including smartphones and tablets. This could permit unauthorized disclosure of sensitive or restricted data.

What to do

  • It is imperative that operating system updates are applied as soon they become available. UAB IT and HSIS will perform these updates for supported desktop, server and virtualization systems.
  • Browser updates, which are or will soon be released, should also be installed. UAB IT and HSIS will push these to supported desktops and servers. UAB IT will begin pushing Windows updates to Desktop customers at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 7.
  • Customers should reboot their systems as soon as they are notified that updates are available on their systems.
  • Vendors will also release firmware updates for affected computers. (Firmware is special software that controls computers and other digital devices.) This will require physical access to affected systems.
  • Users of systems that aren’t supported by UAB IT or HSIS should also apply these updates.
  • So far, no updates have been announced for smartphones or tablets. These will have to be installed when they become available.
It’s also important to install these updates on computers and other devices that aren’t managed by UAB IT or HSIS. If you need assistance, please consult IT personnel in your school or department or contact your help desk. You can reach campus AskIT at 996-5555 or askit@uab.edu and HSIS at 934-8888 or helpdesk@uabmc.edu.
The Qualtrics research suite, an online survey tool, is now available for free to UAB students, faculty and staff.

Previously, licenses were limited to schools who had subscribed to it.

Qualtrics is an online survey tool that allows you to build complex surveys that fulfill a variety of research needs. The tool can help you build and distribute surveys and analyze responses, all from one convenient online location.

“Qualtrics is an easy-to-use tool that gives us flexibility in creating our own powerful surveys and allows us the ability to analyze the results that showcase, for example, the extent to which our campus is involved in the community,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., director of external affairs for UAB.

Extending the license for Qualtrics to all of campus is part of a larger effort to expand technology services under an “IT Bill of Rights” for students, faculty and staff. The IT Strategic Advisory Council recommended the expansion of the license and it was approved by Vice President and CIO Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D.

“Tools like Qualtrics make it easier for you to do your job,” Carver said. “Our job is to eliminate obstacles to your success and help empower you to change the world.”

In addition to the Qualtrics license change, Mathematica will continue to be available to all campus students, faculty and staff. The funding source will now be UAB IT.
Storage Migration Web

A campus-wide plan to move on-campus file storage in UABFile to the cloud will help departments save money and provide greater advantages in file collaboration and accessibility.

Beginning in February 2018, UAB IT will begin moving department file shares and individuals’ stored files in UABFile — also known as UDrive — to OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage solution. By leveraging investment in a cloud solution, UAB is also eliminating the cost of department file shares.

OneDrive is already available for free to all students, faculty and staff.

To prepare for the move, faculty and staff are encouraged to clean up their files to allow a smoother transition. Refer to the data reduction page for information about finding and purging Restricted/PHI data.

“Moving file storage to the cloud will give faculty, staff and students greater flexibility in accessing data and collaborating across campus and beyond,” said Brian Rivers, chief information security officer. “But we need departments and individuals to assist us in this effort by cleaning up their current files and removing or redacting Restricted/PHI information.”

Departments and individuals should refer to the University’s Records Retention Policy and Records Retention Schedule for information about how long to keep data.

UAB IT’s information security team will scan files moving to the cloud to ensure that no data classified as Restricted/PHI — information such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or protected health information — is moved to OneDrive. At this time, Restricted/PHI data is not permitted to be stored in OneDrive.

Individuals who prefer to move their own files ahead of a scheduled migration can choose to do so using OneDrive or UAB Box. Please note that OneDrive is the preferred collaboration tool for students and faculty, because students do not have access to UAB Box.
Martinez graduation

Daniel Martinez was living in Florida, working in marketing but hoping to learn more about software development, when he heard about a unique grant-funded program that gives underemployed young people a chance to learn about coding.

So Martinez packed up everything and “drove all the way to Birmingham,” he said.

That gamble paid off when he graduated from the latest Innovate Birmingham class on Dec. 15 — and started work the following Monday as an entry-level developer with UAB IT.

“This program changed my life completely,” Martinez said.

Martinez is the fourth graduate of the Innovate Birmingham program to come to work with UAB IT. UAB, which helped secure the grant funding for Innovate Birmingham, has been a leading partner in the effort.

With a background in digital marketing with startup companies, Martinez was used to working with developers — so he knew that was his interest. And as a native of Colombia, he is accustomed to new places.

“It wasn’t hard to make the decision,” he said.

Bill Laughlin, director of UAB IT’s applications and consulting services team, said the new job will give Martinez greater opportunity to expand his skills.

“He comes to us with a broad but beginning spread of programming languages and component languages, so we are very excited to have him as a team member,” Laughlin said.
Desktop Services customers will see a new popup box on their computers when it is time to reboot for a Microsoft update.

The new popup box, which will look like the screenshot below, will pop up every eight hours until you restart your computer, or the computer restarts itself after 24 hours.

MicrosoftPopup v3

Unlike the previous popup notice about the pending reboot, computer users can hide the new message.

If you do not hide it, it will close on its own in 15 minutes, then pop up again in eight hours.

Windows updates are typically done on the third Tuesday of the month, unless there is an emergency update.
Continued expansion of the Cheaha supercomputer, improvements in customer service and enhanced security measures are among the many projects UAB IT has planned with its strategic partners in 2018.

UAB IT is entering the second year of the IT Strategic Plan, which calls for a number of projects to improve technology infrastructure and services through 2019. UAB IT collaborated with constituents across campus to develop the plan.

UAB continues to make security its top priority, with streamlined policies, an expanded Security Operations Center and security awareness measures ongoing. In the coming year, UAB will be adding security enhancements to campus email and seeking help from the campus community to protect sensitive data.

Growing the Cheaha supercomputer, already by far the fastest in Alabama, is planned for the spring. Last fall, UAB added GPUs to improve the supercomputer’s performance to 450 teraflops. The capacity upgrade this spring could bring the research computing cluster’s performance to 1 petaflop.

UAB IT is also in a constant state of improvement with regard to customer service. The Desktop Services unit is undergoing changes sparked by an evaluation by HDI, a leading customer service consultant. Last year, AskIT improved its customer serving rating to a 2.6 and continues to adapt to meet customer needs.

Among the other projects UAB IT will engage in the coming year include updated classroom technology; an updated IT Service Portal; and infrastructure improvements including the beginning of implementation of a new voice-over-IP telephone system.

To see more of the IT plans for the new year, take a look at the IT Strategic Plan wall chart.
Vice President and Chief Information Officer Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D., has been elected to serve on the Advisory Council for the West Point Association of Graduates, the alumni association for the U.S. Military Academy.

Curt CarverCarver will serve from 2018-2020 and represent 11 South Central states as one of six society advisors and a member of the 54-person Advisory Council.

The mission of the West Point Association of Graduates is to serve West Point and its graduates and to further the ideals and promote the welfare of the U.S. Military Academy.

Carver graduated from West Point in 1983, rose through the faculty ranks to professor, and served at West Point for 12 years before retiring from the U.S. Army after 27 years of service.

Carver has served UAB as its CIO since 2015. During his tenure at UAB, the University has expanded its research computing capacity to deploy the fastest supercomputer in Alabama; become the first university in the state to deploy 100Gbps internet speeds across campus; and implemented new services such as unlimited email, unlimited cloud storage and expanded WiFi to help better serve campus needs.

Carver is the former vice chancellor and chief information officer for the University System of Georgia and has received a number of national and international honors and awards for military, teaching and research excellence.
Phishing emails can often mimic the email addresses of your colleagues — making you think that someone at UAB is sending you a legitimate message.

In January, UAB IT will be launching a new feature in UAB email that will alert you when you receive an email from outside UAB. The external sender notice will look like the screenshot below.

ExternalSender screenshot

So if an outside vendor sends you a message or a student emails from his or her personal account, you will receive the notification at the top of the email. If you trust the source, you can disregard the notification.

But if someone trying to scam you fakes a UAB email address — as was the case with a widely-circulated phishing email purporting to be from UAB President Dr. Ray Watts last year — you will be warned to take caution opening any attachments or clicking any links included in the message.

If you do suspect you have received a phishing email, you can report it via PhishMe Reporter or forward it to phishing@uab.edu.

Learn more about phishing and how you can limit your risk of falling for a scam email here.
UAB has enacted new encryption guidelines to give faculty, staff and students recommendations on the requirements and technology solutions for various types of encryption of Restricted/PHI data.

The encryption guidelines are intended to help ensure that the confidentiality and integrity of UAB data and resources are protected in accordance with the UAB Data Protection Rule and other policies, standards, rules and security frameworks.

For example, the guidelines explain the solutions for encrypting Microsoft Office files, Windows desktops and laptops and Apple desktops and laptops.

Restricted/PHI data, as defined by the Data Classification Rule, includes HIPAA information, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and other confidential information.

Storing confidential information — particularly information classified as restricted — endangers students, faculty and staff.

UAB IT needs the help of everyone on campus to reduce the amount of data, such as Social Security numbers or personal health information, that is stored on local computers or servers. 

If you have stored Restricted/PHI data, such as SSNs, on your computer, departmental server, UABFile drive or in cloud storage such as OneDrive or Box, you need to review your files and delete or redact any information that is no longer needed, especially as UAB IT begins a campaign to migrate data stored in UABFile to the cloud.

Remember this rule: If you don't need it, delete it. And if you do need it, protect it. Store restricted and sensitive information according to the Data Classification and Data Protection rules. 

The video above has more tips on reducing data, and you can click on our new data reduction page to learn more.