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September 2, 2004

CSSD Offers VPN, Software Update Services

Two new free computer-related services for Pitt faculty, staff and students now are up and running.

“We’re offering a secure VPN (virtual private network) service that replaces the service previously provided by Stargate for secure access to the University’s network, and a new software update service that automatically installs the latest security updates and service packs as soon as they become available from Microsoft,” said Jinx P. Walton, director of Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD).

Authorized Pitt account holders can access restricted on-line resources, such as library journals, databases and application software, from any off-campus location free of charge.

There are a number of services that the University wants to restrict to authorized Pitt users, Walton explained. “Some of these restrictions are in place because of licensing agreements, others are for security reasons. The library, for example, signs agreements that certain journals will be used only by members of the University community.”

Pitt’s new VPN service is a gateway that verifies and authenticates users, using the central directory, she said.

Walton cautioned that the new service still requires an information service provider (ISP). The service replaces Stargate’s “VPN-only service”; it does not provide such options as higher speed DSL, for example.

“With Stargate, you had to install a client [with software] and it was cumbersome and it cost $9.95 a month,” Walton said. “You didn’t get ISP service for the $9.95, you had to already have an ISP and the VPN service was layered on top of that to give you access to restricted resources. The new service just uses a web browser, so it does not require a client to be installed on the computer, and it is free.”

Walton noted that Pitt’s 800 modem pool continues as an option for Pitt users who wish to access the VPN service.

“The [modem pool] performance has not been as poor as it was previously,” she said. “I believe the reason is that many people are using an ISP because they want the higher speed services,” she said. To access the new VPN service, users open a web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, visit the web address: and click on “Enter.” To log on, users enter their username and password and click “Sign In.” The screen links the user directly to the Hillman Library and Health Sciences Library web pages; other web sites are accessible through the URL entry field. The site also has a bookmarking feature for convenience.

Pitt’s new software update service applies to users with Windows 2000 (Service Pack 2), Windows XP (Service Pack 1) or Windows 2003.

The new software service will eliminate delays in downloading Microsoft software, because such updates are retrieved from servers connected directly to the University’s network, Walton said.

Users will have various options for receiving the updates. “You can be notified before the updates are downloaded and installed, you can have the updates downloaded automatically and be notified when they are ready to be installed, or you can have everything downloaded and installed automatically,” Walton said.

To activate the service, visit: Download the “Pitt Software Update Service.” Click the icon to launch the service, and select from among the options on receiving software updates. Then click the “Apply” button.

For more information on either new service, contact the Help Desk at 412/624-4357 [HELP].

-Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 1

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