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While sitting here in the lab, I dashed an email off to the Computing Center help desk:

"A note: Optical mice don't need mouse pads. The computer lab mouse pads are simply in the way, making the mice move more slowly. Though I see where you might be concerned that the finish on the desks will be worn away, I doubt that it will be worn off by a mere bit of mouse-moving. Further, the mouse pads that are currently available are dirty, with grime often embedded in them, hence users are forced to try to avoid touching them if possible.

On another topic, I and many others would appreciate it if you'd configure your lab web browsing software, namely Internet Explorer and Netscape, not to save AutoComplete data—the settings on most of the lab computers default to saving this data, which can include personal information like passwords, PINs, and usernames. This is a real danger to people's privacy, especially considering that anyone can install programs on these machines to log keystrokes or reap a harvest of AutoComplete data. Sure, the programs will later be found and deleted, but the distinct possibility still exists that unwitting students will end up having their personal data stolen.

Every time I use a Web browser on one of these computers, I make sure that AutoComplete is turned off and that the history and cookies caches are cleared. That may seem absurd, but I don't like the idea that my personal information could be accessible to others on these machines. You might say, "Well, if you don't trust the technology, don't use the machines." Yet when one is on campus, 15 to 30 mins away from a dorm or apartment, these machines are the only available option. You could also say, "Why don't you just get a laptop?" Not everyone, however, is able to afford the luxury of portable computing power. This lab should be a convenience to students, but instead it becomes a liability and a hassle when the security-conscious have to spend extra time to ensure that their personal information is secure."

I realize that it's an incomplete argument, and probably makes me sound like one of those cloistered computer geeks who won't touch doorknobs without Kleenex wrapped around their hands, yet something needed to be said about both of those issues. I think simply changing the default settings on IE to not save AutoComplete data would go a long way towards keeping passwords, PINs, etc. secure.

12:43 pm, October 13, 2003 :: the jablog years

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