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March 21, 2013

Technology trend: Mobile

Jinx Walton

Jinx Walton

This year’s technology trends — both positive and negative — focus almost exclusively on mobile devices, said Jinx Walton, Pitt chief information officer and director of Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) in a keynote address at the Staff Association Council’s (SAC) annual technology fair.

About 50 Pitt staff members gathered in the William Pitt Union for the March 11 event, which included a half-dozen workshops.

The number of devices that individuals carry is increasing, Walton said, noting “last year about 40 percent of us carried three or more devices” — for instance a laptop, phone and tablet.

“There’s a continual release of new and improved devices,” she said. The newest iPads, tablets and smartphones now have multiple features, including voice-enabled functions, she said.

That’s prompting new developments such as Windows 8, which she said is “the first operating system trying to bridge the gap between the desktop and the mobile device.” Another trend is the challenge of “BYOD” — employees bringing their own devices to work — which at Pitt means not merely faculty and staff, but also students bringing their own devices from which they access University resources such as email and databases.

“That introduces a lot of challenges, because all of the different mobile devices have their own ways of accessing that information and it’s something we need to consider and address,” she said. In addition, the number of devices being brought to campus has an effect on bandwidth needs: Even if devices aren’t being used, if they’re running, they’re connected to the network, increasing demand on the Pitt network’s infrastructure, she said.

Bandwidth on the Pittsburgh campus has increased to 2,000  MB/sec, up from 50 MB/sec in 2000 and 735 MB/sec in 2010.

Wireless on campus also is expanding due to continually increased needs. Currently, the academic buildings on the Pittsburgh campus are covered by 3,056 access points.

In an average month, the Pittsburgh campus logs some 18.2 million wireless sessions with nearly 28,600 unique users, she said.

“In November, we nearly doubled the wireless capacity in the Hillman Library, and within a month we were getting complaints from students that we did not have enough wireless capacity there,” Walton pointed out. In addition, the number of wired ports has grown to 44,000, up from 40,000 last year.

The rise of mobile devices also has caught the attention of computer criminals.

Last year, for the first time ever, cybercrime exceeded drug trafficking as the most lucrative illegal activity, Walton said. “It is estimated that cybercrime generated about $1 trillion last year and there were over 556 million victims.”

Computer data breaches have increased five-fold since 2006 with about 174 million records exposed in 2011, Walton said, adding that about two-thirds of such security incidents involve the use of malicious software to compromise servers, computers or mobile devices.

“It’s expected this year that exploits on mobile devices will increase,” Walton said. “The frightening thing is that the most common way this happens is through apps that you download,” she said, noting that spyware hidden in an app can capture information from a device and send it to a hacker.

Another mobile threat is text crime in which malware sends text messages to premium services for which the device’s owner is charged. And ransomware, which Walton said “locks or encrypts the data on your mobile device and then you have to pay to have it unlocked,” is on the rise. Computer experts are predicting such mobile threats will become a more prominent problem, she said.

Walton said CSSD is investigating security options for mobile devices. “There are very few antivirus and anti-malware programs available now for mobile devices,” she said, adding that CSSD is keeping watch in order to find one to recommend for University users. In addition, CSSD is considering a Computrace solution for mobile devices, similar to its protection for laptop computers, she said.

In response to other staff needs, CSSD has introduced Box for cloud storage and Lync for communication including audio and videoconferencing, Walton said. And CSSD is aware of demand for online, on-demand training in addition to workshops on popular applications that are offered on campus. “We are investigating new options for online training and hoping that by this time next year we have that service in place,” Walton said.

Walton also announced the expansion of CSSD’s internal “bright ideas” program to include SAC members via SAC’s community portal. The program, implemented in 2011 as a way for CSSD employees to make suggestions for implementing new ideas, has resulted in the start of a CSSD newsletter, a “lunch and learn” program and the launch of “send to mobile” service that lets Pitt employees transfer calls from their University phone to a mobile device. Another idea that will be implemented is a YouTube channel featuring short videos on new services and common questions.

Walton encouraged SAC members to make suggestions.

Other members of the University community can offer technology-related suggestions through CSSD’s help desk.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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