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NCCU Law Legal Eagles sweep mediation competition!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 14, 2011 in NotFail

Good evening y’all! :)

Apparently mediation-related competitions exist in the law school arena? Definitely news to me :beatup:

And the only reason I found out is because two Legal Eagles from NCCU Law took 1st and 2nd place in one of them! :D From the “Well this is something cool to get in my email inbox on a Monday morning” files (via this story at University of Houston Law Center):

North Carolina mediators sweep Abrams Competition

Nov. 14, 2011 – Leah Leone of the North Carolina Central University School of Law has taken the top honor at the Jeffry S. Abrams National Mediation Competition, held Nov. 11-12 at the University of Houston Law Center. As the winner, Leone received the Frank Evans Mediator Scholarship award, valued at $2,000.

Jeffry S. Abrams (L) and 1st place winner Leah Leone of NCCU Law (R)

“This has been an amazing experience for me,” Leone said. “From start to finish, the competition has taught me so much. The insight I gained and the lessons I have learned here in the great state of Texas from my competitors and all the judges has been invaluable.”

Presented by the Blakely Advocacy Institute and sponsored by distinguished Houston mediator and UH Law Center alumnus Jeffry S. Abrams, the competition allowed top law students nationwide to put their mediation skills to the test before a team of judges.

“The competition went very well. There were 11 student mediators and the national reach of the competition was evidenced by the fact that students from California (UC-Hastings) to New York (St. John’s) were in attendance. The competitors, and coaches, were high in their praise of the competition, stating that the opportunity to learn from experienced mediators (as judges) in the competition context was one of the best experiences of their law school career,” said Jim Lawrence, Blakely Advocacy Institute Director.

The final rounds saw Leone and Valoree Hanson, a student mediator also from the North Carolina Central University School of Law, being judged by Abrams; Tom Newhouse, University of Houston Law Center Professor emeritus; and the Hon. Frank Evans, generally recognized as the father of ADR in Texas. NCCU School of Law Professor Mark Morris was Leone’s and Hanson’s coach. Leone and Hanson came in a respective first and second place in the competition. Henson received the Jeffry S. Abrams Mediator Scholarship Award, which is valued at $500.

UH Law Center students presently do not compete in the Abrams competition.

The Abrams competition is designed to run in parallel with the Law Center’s Tom Newhouse Mediation Competition, where UH Law Center students participate as advocate/client in mediation. These intramural participants serve as the parties to the mediation rounds for the national competition. Team members Garrett Gibson and Frank Carroll won the Tom Newhouse Mediation Competition.

Very cool, and CONGRATULATIONS to Miss Leone and Miss Hanson (and coach Prof ADR)! :spin:

Have a great night folks!

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Quick look at Summer 2011 classes

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 21, 2011 in The 2L Life

One of the downsides to still having no clue what I want to do after I pass the bar is that I’ve got a long list of classes I’m still interested in taking and not enough time to actually take them.

Summer 2011: A little bit of everything

Soooo I decided to sign up for my 6th consecutive year of summer school classes :beatup:

You can get a sense of my indecisiveness just from the course subjects:

  • Plea Bargaining: Taught by the same professor who taught my ADR Practices course (and from whom I earned my first bona fide A in law school), I’m taking this class to complement the other coursework I’ve already knocked out if I end up going the criminal prosecution route.1 My uneducated guess is that this will be functionally similar to the other ADR courses I took last year, but with a negotiating eye focused more toward evidence and admissibility issues to provide the leverage in negotiations.
  • Intellectual Property: On the other end of the “what am I going to do with my life?” spectrum, this class will be my first dip into the intellectual property side of things to see if I’d actually like it. NCCU Law has a fairly wide array of IP-related courses — in addition to this one and the USPTO Clinic below, we’ve got courses on patents, licensing and technology transfers, bioethics, and several others — that I never really considered taking until I got an internship in the tech arena. So I’m figuring I need to perform some due diligence and see if this could be an enjoyable option for me ;)
  • U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Practice & Procedure: Since my undergrad degree was in computer science, I’m able to sit for the patent bar without any further technical education if I decide to take it. This course is the classroom prerequisite for anyone taking our USPTO Clinic in the Fall/Spring, so I wanted to get some exposure to how the USPTO works just in case I decide to dabble in IP. It’s only 1 credit and taken pass/fail but will (hopefully) provide some useful insights.
  • Civil Rights: Like my Race & the Law class last summer, this is one of those courses I’m taking just because the subject matter is interesting to me. Where Race & the Law focused on the modern Constitutional implications of our country’s historical race-centric jurisprudence, Civil Rights takes a look at the Constitutional questions surrounding federal civil rights litigation.2 It’s definitely a hot topic here in North Carolina, from the new school assignment policies of the Wake County School Board, to upcoming legislative redistricting by the state’s first Republican-led legislature since Reconstruction, and a variety of other issues in between. It’s actually got me thinking about pursuing our law school’s concentration in civil rights and constitutional law. Should be fun :)

Time-wise, the schedule is somewhat similar to what I took last summer with late afternoon and night classes on Monday / Tuesday / Thursday. The upshot is that there’s no Friday or weekend classes like I had with ADR last year, so that gives me time to catch up on anything I need to catch up on. It also leaves me free during the day once I figure out what I’m going to do internship-wise, be it heading back to I-Cubed or working pro bono for a local DA’s office (or something else entirely).

It should be an interesting summer :D

—===—

From the schedule-related archives:

  1. Already taken CrimLaw and Evidence, in CrimPro now, and will be taking our Criminal Prosecution Clinic in the Fall and Spring. []
  2. Causes of action, jurisdiction, standing, class actions, and so on. []

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Summer ’10 Final Grades

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 16, 2011 in NotFail

A couple days ago I posted an updated entry on how my 1L Spring grades turned out, and this entry is a follow-up with my summer school grades so y’all will have the “full picture” of how my 1L academic life turned out :)

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SUPERIOR COURT MEDIATION
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This 5-day, 40-hour pass/fail class doubled as a CLE for practicing attorneys and is required for all certified mediators in North Carolina.

Tagged by me as “Lobbying for Lawyers“, essentially we learned about various types of alternative dispute resolution and then plowed in-depth into various aspects of mediation, followed by a series of role-playing exercises where we rotated as mediator with other classmates acting as attorneys or clients.

The variety of ages and student-vs-practicing-attorney split made for a different dynamic than the other classes (in a good way). Even though there were some boring moments, I enjoyed it overall and feel like I learned some useful snippets from it. It certainly helped with my ADR Clinic experience :)

Expected final grade for class: Pass
Actual final grade for class: Pass

Synopsis: Useful topic + free food == #win

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ADR PROCESSES AND PRACTICE
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While Superior Court Mediation focused on teaching the various types of alternative dispute resolution and training people on how to be effective mediators, this class focused on ADR from the vantage points of the advocates.

The first day of class covered some of the essentials on ADR that I had already learned, but beyond that each subsequent class involved reading a chapter or two on negotiating styles, competitive tactics, and so on along with learning a new fact pattern. Then we’d have a mock settlement conference with opposing counsel for each of these sets of facts.

The professor for the course was hilarious and laid-back. I also surprisingly enjoyed the course textbook (even though it was dry in parts).

Final grades for the course were based on a journal maintained throughout the summer session1 and two essays critiquing the results of a negotiation session and a mediation session respectively. I figured I aced the essays but also lost points on the journal because I missed an entry or two. Luckily it wasn’t enough to alter my grade :D

Expected final grade for class: A-
Actual final grade for class: A

Synopsis: Good professor + good textbook == #win

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ADR CLINIC
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Most of my experiences in this class already got written about elsewhere on the blog under the ADR tag. Basically every participant had to mediate about a dozen cases, the bulk of which were in Criminal District Court in Wake County. We also mediated cases involving child support, 50(B) protective orders, Medicaid cases pending before the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings, and had to sit in on a session with Wake County’s Drug Court.

Clinic grades were based on performance/professionalism during the mediations, teaching a class on an ADR-related topic of choice, completing three different reflections on various mediations (mine were late), and compiling a portfolio including a résumé and pricing list for use if/when we became real mediators.

The main upside to the class was learning that I’m probably not cut out for mediation. I’m incredibly talented at it, but I’m also accustomed to having an opinion and I’m ill-suited to simply facilitating :beatup:

Expected final grade for class: B-
Actual final grade for class: B+

Synopsis: Tangible experience + decent grade == #win

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RACE & THE LAW
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This class was the highlight of my summer :spin:

It’s a seminar course that focuses on the impact race has played on American jurisprudence, through the lens of 5 different groups (lumped together in the casebook as whites, blacks, asians, hispanics, and American Indians). In addition to examining the core case law — sizable chunks of which are still surprisingly considered good law, even though they were based on what we now know are inaccurate perceptions of race — the book then follows with looking at race-based cases as applied to issues such as free speech, marriage/adoption, immigration, political participation, and so on.

As you can probably guess, conversations in the class periodically got emotional but everything was kept at a high level of professionalism. It was engaging to hear the different perspectives based not only on folks’ own races, but also their age, socioeconomic status, sexuality, upbringing, military service and various other factors. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though my somewhat-outspoken views aren’t exactly politically correct.2

Final grades were based on two different group presentations and two essays. I had to give myself a crash course in constitutional law because all of the essay options included either First or Fourteenth Amendment considerations, but I anchored myself to a desk at the law school until I learned it and wrote solid responses. The effort was worth it ;)

Expected final grade for class: A
Actual final grade for class: A

Synopsis: Engaging discussion + “A” in a 3-credit course == #win^2

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FINAL SCORE: SUMMER 2010 FINALS
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Expected End-of-Summer GPA: 3.523
Actual End-of-Summer GPA: 3.810

Actual End-of-1L GPA: 2.898 (Law school median: 2.000)

*****

I’ll be focused on the upcoming TYLA regional competition in Charlotte for the next few days so I don’t know when I’ll have a follow-up post, but once life settles down I’ll go through the Fall 2011 semester and I’ll finally be more-or-less caught up with things :)

Have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the grade-related archives:

  1. I hate those things []
  2. While I recognize actual racism still exists across society — a recognition affirmed throughout the 7 years I dated QuietStorm — I think the overwhelming majority of problems attributed to “race” today are more accurately attributable to class / socioeconomic differences, particularly for people 35 and younger. []

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When “honesty is the best policy” goes awry

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 24, 2011 in The 2L Life

Hey everybody! :D

I promise y’all I really truly do have a bunch of entries to get posted. Really. It’s just been an über-insane couple weeks and the backlog just kinda keeps growing.

But I figured tonight’s entry is sufficiently brief and/or fail-worthy that it merited posting in a timely fashion ;)

One of the few character traits I closely guard is my reputation for candor. Love me or hate me, most folks I know will agree that I’m a “no bullsh*t” guy — I’ll tell you exactly what I’m thinking, even if it means you’re not gonna like me afterward as a result. I’d rather have an honest enemy than a fraudulent friend.

99.9% of the time that works out in my favor, like it did with my late critiques in my ADR Clinic class this summer.

Today was the other 0.1% :beatup:

I’d fallen behind in the reading for Business Associations, and I know from experience that if Prof Ks calls on you and you’re unprepared, you’ll be called on again — needless to say, not a 1L experience I care to repeat. And it’s not like I was going to miss anything terribly riveting in Trial Practice. We’re going over how to create a closing argument, something I’ve got a little experience doing already.

So I decided to skip Trial Practice to catch up on the readings. Easy decision.

For whatever reason, I thought it would be appropriate to stop by the Judge’s office after class to see what I had missed. The conversation started like this, verbatim:

Judge TP: “What happened to you?”
TDot: “Well, sir, I was behind in Business Associations and I didn’t want to insult your intelligence by showing up to your class and not paying attention.”
Judge TP: ::blank stare::

And of course there were a pair of 1Ls sitting outside a professor’s office barely a foot away to watch the whole thing :beatup:

After looking at me like I was batsh*t crazy for a solid 30 seconds, he asked me if I knew the next assignment and then walked off. Here’s hoping I didn’t just nuke my Trial Practice grade…

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Sloth FTL

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 7, 2010 in Fail

Among the various other things I’ve not been doing during my “too hot”-or-“too cold” summer: regular cardio exercise.

I didn’t pay attention to the effects of my slothfulness until my last day in court for the ADR Clinic… when I noticed my slacks were a bit more snug than usual :oops:  So with the weekend here and most preparations for school already done, I decided to hit the  American Tobacco Trail for a 2-mile run tonight.

How’d it go, you ask? Let’s just say it’s evident I haven’t run in months :beatup:

Not only have I regressed way back to before even my failed USMC PFT run, I was panting like a dog and sweating worse than a politician under oath. And my muscles hhhuuuuurrrrrrtttt :cry:

Lesson learned. Calisthenics tomorrow, then more running on Monday…

Until then, have a great night y’all! :D

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Summer school: officially finished :)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 2, 2010 in The 2L Life

As of around 9:30am-ish I finally hit one dozen cases mediated over the course of this summer. That means I’ve met all the requirements for my clinical work with the ADR Clinic at NCCU Law — and that means summer school is officially finished! :D

If the “success” of a mediation is getting both parties to mutually agree to a resolution, then I was lucky to have a 100% success rate for the summer with no impasses for any of the cases I had. And even if we set some other metric where I didn’t have 100% mediation success, I still had 100% GPA success: no matter what grade I’m given for the ADR Clinic, my grades in the first summer session gave me a badly-needed boost to the GPA :beatup:

I’ll post a grade update once the ADR Clinic grade comes in (I’m expecting a B- due to my late reflections), but for now I’m taking the rest of the night off :)

Have a great night y’all! :D

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$31

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 30, 2010 in The 2L Life

Today was my first in Child Custody Court helping to mediate as part of my volunteer work with the ADR Clinic at the NC Central University School of Law.

Hopefully it will also be my last :beatup:

John and Jane Doe have been divorced for 2 years and have 4 kids between them, ranging in ages from 22 to 12. They’re both middle-aged people, intelligent (both employed as teachers actually), seemingly rational… and have been to court many, many times over those 2 years. Yesterday they had a day-long hearing over a new child support agreement; they’re coming back next week to dispute custody.

The case today was solely to discuss unreimbursed medical expenses.

Both of the parties were insanely difficult to work with.  John’s first words in the mediation were that he understood compromise had to be involved, and the only way he was budging was if “miracles happen.” He then said the only reason he was participating was because the court ordered the mediation, but he’d prefer we just declare an impasse immediately and let the judge resolve everything.

As we continued with the mediation, Jane kept making remarks about John being a deadbeat and irrational and dozens upon dozens of other criticisms. Then John would turn to my co-mediator and I to tell us about how insane Jane was and how she was showing us here in-person. By the end of the mediation 3 hours later, John had already walked out once declaring he wasn’t going to sign any agreement. Then once he came back and had agreed to mutual terms and signed the paperwork, Jane decided she wasn’t going to sign any agreement because John had signed it, and would instead take everything before the judge.1 :roll:

The really infuriating part? The thing that has me convinced to never again set foot in that courtroom if I can help it? The entire dispute was over…

…wait for it…

…wait…

…$31.03 :crack:

Three hours of mediation, dozens of snarky comments to each other and to the mediators, a subsequent court hearing to secure judicial approval of the agreement,2 all over $31.03. Had these two people — educators! with attorneys! — just had the maturity to deal with each other with some modicum of civility, they could have resolved this issue without ever coming to court in a proceeding that cost the taxpayers as much in court personnel salaries, heating/lights, etc as the amount in dispute.

For comparison:  although my mediation work is pro bono, had this been a mediation in civil superior court it would have cost $600 ($150 administration fee + $150 per hour for labor).

Volunteering with the ADR Clinic is slowly convincing me some people should just be banned from ever using the court system… :roll:

  1. She changed her mind soon thereafter, undoubtedly influenced by the “Are you f*cking kidding me?” looks she got from my co-mediator and I :beatup: []
  2. Required for all mediated agreements involving child custody and support issues. []

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Only two weeks left…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 24, 2010 in The 2L Life

…until Orientation! :eek:

I had a random urge to look at my calendar today, since I’ll be in court 4 times over the next 9 days to wrap up my mediation requirements for the ADR clinic at NCCU Law. After those requirements are done I’ll be officially finished with summer school… but then start helping out with 1L Orientation the following Monday.

Then the Monday after… the Fall semester of 2L year starts :crack:

On the one hand I want the Fall semester to get here. But as it creeps closer and closer… I wish I had more summertime :beatup:

I’m not mentally ready for this yet… :cry:

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Candor FTW

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 22, 2010 in The 2L Life

I know over the last few days the entries here at law:/dev/null have had a distinctly anti-government flavor, and for that I apologize dear readers. These are supposed to be musings of a computer scientist “turned law student” and not of one turned into a political pundit :)

Apparently the Law School Gods agreed, because they made sure to provide material for today’s entry :beatup:

I’ve mentioned in a few previous entries that I’m volunteering with the Alternative Dispute Resolution clinic at the NC Central University School of Law. The course requirements include mediating about a dozen cases in Wake County District Court, creation of sample documents used by mediators in the field like Agreements to Mediate, a presentation on an ADR topic of interest (mine was plea bargaining), and 3 separate papers critiquing how some of those dozen-ish cases were actually mediated.

And amid my structureless boredom of summer, I completely forgot about the critiques :beatup:

So Professor ADR sent me an email wondering where they were. And I gave serious consideration to crafting some kind of plausible excuse to justify my failure. But the truth is I forgot, so I sheepishly confessed my sin in a response email and pleaded for mercy.

The professor’s response: “Well, you get points for candor at least.”

I guess it’s better than nothing :beatup:

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TDot’s Tips: Tighten up your digital life

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 16, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Hey everybody :)

Today was another mediation day in court as part of my volunteer work with the ADR Clinic at NCCU Law. My co-mediator and I only had two cases, but they both involved actions seeking protective orders to prevent one party from contacting the other.  The first case involved a lady being harassed by one (or more) of her fiancé’s ex-girlfriends, including being the target of a fake Facebook profile, a fake profile on some dating site, and so on.

The lady being harassed was justifiably upset, and had initiated a criminal investigation along with bringing every piece of documentation she had to the court hearing. But the ex-girlfriend accused of doing the harassment was adamant that she wasn’t involved at all — claiming that in fact another ex-girlfriend was impersonating her.1 :crack:

The whole hearing was filled with talk of IP addresses, passwords, email accounts and other Computer Science-y stuff.2 I’m convinced they were both being less-than-honest, but at least they got this particular issue resolved for now.

But given how much of our lives are now online, and how trivially simple it is to compromise our digital security, I thought I’d share a handful of easy tips to help you tighten up your digital life :)

Quick disclaimer: In computing, there’s no such thing as “total” security. Everything can be hacked with enough time, ingenuity, and computational effort — and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you ;) Your objective as a user is just to make sure that the time / ingenuity / effort that would have to be spent to compromise your security is worth more to the attacker than the value of what you’re securing.

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1) STRENGTHEN YOUR PASSWORDS
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Passwords are so ubiquitous online that even non-tech-savvy computer users often have several of them. The problem is that we have so many passwords on so many sites that they’re almost impossible to remember without making them simple, which also makes them easy to compromise.

There are a variety of ways hackers try to break passwords. “Dictionary” attacks use regular words as password guesses. “Brute force” attacks try every possible password combination. “Rainbow tables” are used to try and crack encrypted passwords. The list goes on.

You can limit the success of these attacks by making some really simple changes:

  • The longer a password, the better the security. This makes intuitive sense to most people but you’d be surprised by how many folks have passwords of only 6-8 characters. Your password should ideally be twice that long or more, which in turn requires far more effort on the part of hackers to figure it out.
  • NEVER use regular words in your password. Remember those “dictionary” attacks I mentioned? They use dictionaries of common words/names/places (often coupled with numbers) to guess a password. If you’ve only got regular words as your password, odds are good it will be compromised.
  • Use all available character sets. If you’re a user of the Latin alphabet (ISO 8859-1) you typically have 4 groups of characters you can use in fashioning a password: lower-case letters a-z, upper-case letters A-Z, numbers 0-9, and symbols like $ and @. The vast majority of passwords only use one or two of these groups, and that makes them much easier to hack. For example, someone with the 8-character password “thomas08” is only using two groups, so a cracking program only needs to try at most 2.1 billion possible combinations before guessing it correctly (since there are 26+10 possibilities for each character and therefore 36^8 possible passwords). That seems like a lot, but a typical brute force attack using just one computer can guess 30 million passwords every minute. So in the very best case scenario, where the password only gets figured out on the very last guess, this password will be cracked in a little over two months. But slightly tweaking that password to something like “tHom@s08” makes it far more difficult: now all four character groups are used and there are 94 possible options for each character in the password (26 lower-case, 26 upper-case, 10 numbers, 32 symbols) so a hacker needs to try over six quadrillion combinations (94^8 possibilities) — or guessing 30M passwords a minute for roughly 386 years.
  • Don’t re-use passwords across multiple sites. This common-sense principle is also frequently ignored. Password security not only depends on the strength of your password but also the strength of protection used on the website storing it. If something happens where Facebook or Google get hacked and your password is compromised, far more damage can result if you use that same password at other sites. Whenever possible, use a different password at every site you access to limit the problems caused by a security breach.

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2) TURN OFF UNUSED SERVICES
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Computers are useful even when they’re disconnected from the rest of the world, but the really fun stuff only happens when computers talk to each other. Accessing websites, sharing files, using Bluetooth accessories — each of these options uses a different “service” on your computer, basically opening a tunnel to the outside world through which other computers can communicate with your own.

If you’re not using a specific service, but the service is still turned on, it’s basically the equivalent of leaving a door to your house wide open. Someone may not come in and steal anything… but why take the chance? :P

Turn off all network services you’re not going to use. The exact details of how to turn things off varies greatly depending on your operating system so I’ll skip detailing it here, but a quick Google search on “turn off unused services” will get you results on how to turn things off in Windows XP, Windows Vista, MacOS X and more.

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3) BOOST YOUR WI-FI ENCRYPTION
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Wireless communication is rapidly replacing wired networks as the preferred choice for home and corporate users. Wi-fi networks provide far more flexibility in terms of how and where we can use a network, but it comes with a significant security tradeoff: electronic eavesdropping by hackers using readily-available software.

To limit the impact of eavesdropping, encryption algorithms have been developed to secure the data being broadcast over a wi-fi network. Unfortunately some of the most widely used algorithms — specifically Wired Equivalent Privacy (or WEP) — are also the weakest. The WEP algorithm is often the first choice presented to a user setting up his/her home router, even though it has been deprecated by the IEEE because it is inherently insecure. Any WEP-protected network can be compromised in 5 minutes or less with publicly-available software :surprised:

And once someone has access to the unencrypted contents of your wi-fi network, they get to see everything being transmitted by your computer (including websites, passwords, account numbers, and so on).

If at all possible, you should be using at least WPA2 security with a key that follows the same strong-password techniques I mentioned in #1 above. Even the most-secure WPA2 network can be compromised, but it will take so much time/effort that all but the most-determined hackers won’t bother to try.

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4) FACEBOOK: LOCK DOWN YOUR PROFILE WITH LISTS
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Despite all the outrage regularly heaped on Facebook (not without justification) the social network site deserves some credit for at least trying to have a robust privacy architecture. In addition to being able to restrict access to “Friends” or “Friends of Friends” or “Everyone”, you can also create lists to include whoever you designate — and these lists can, in turn, be used to limit access to parts of your profile.

For example, if you’ve got “friends” on Facebook who you don’t know that well, you can create a list like “People I Don’t Know”, put those folks on it, and then change your privacy settings so no one on that list can see things like your wall or your date of birth or your photo albums.

The reverse also works well: you can block access to sensitive info for everybody (like employers ;) ) and then allow access to selected lists with bona fide friends on them.

The whole process can be tedious and time-consuming, but can be a great help in protecting your identity.

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5) FACEBOOK: BE CAREFUL WITH REGIONAL NETWORKS
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While we’re on the topic of Facebook privacy settings, many folks join regional location-based networks (“Raleigh/Durham” for instance) without realizing the security implications.

Many of your profile’s security settings are configured by default to allow access to your friends and your networks. But since no email address is required to join a regional network, basically those settings enable literally anybody to join a regional network that you happen to be in, and then have access to your entire profile unless/until you lock it down.

I’ve never joined a regional network myself for that reason, but if you decide to join one make sure to adjust your privacy settings to limit what people in your networks can see.

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6) BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU SHARE…
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People like social networks because of the sense of intimacy they provide, and that in turn tends to create “overshare” — disclosing information that you’d never reveal if you noticed thousands of people were watching (which they typically are on Facebook and elsewhere).

For example, how many of you have your full date of birth (including the year) on your Facebook profile?

If you raised your hand, did you know that in many states someone’s name and full date of birth are the only things needed to access things like their full voter registration profile… which almost always includes a residential address? Most of us would never randomly announce our birthday in a room full of people, but we do it online without thinking. Complete DOB’s on Facebook profiles are a stalker’s dream come true.

This and other information gets shared with everybody every day on social networks. Be aware of what information you’re revealing publicly and how it can be used by others.

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7) …AND CONFIGURE PASSWORD-CHALLENGE QUESTIONS ACCORDINGLY
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Another example of the security implications of overshare: learning the answers to password-challenge questions.

Those of you who paid attention to the 2008 presidential elections may recall that Sarah Palin learned this the hard way. On most websites, if you’ve forgotten your password typically you can answer one or more “challenge questions” that are supposed to have answers only you know. Figure out the answer, and you get access to the password or the ability to create a new password.

One of the most common challenge questions: “what is your mother’s maiden name?”

Seems innocuous enough, until you notice that the vast majority of women on Facebook include their maiden names in their profile, and many of the mothers have their sons/daughters linked to their profile. I actually once fell into this category: I have my mom listed as one of my parents, but she has her maiden name as part of her profile. So because of that I had to go through several websites and change my challenge-response questions.

The same applies to other information as well. A close friend of mine once blew me off when I told him he needed to do a better job securing himself online, insisting to me that his information was secure and that he’d buy me a fifth of vodka if I could hack one of his accounts. The challenge question to access the website for his student loans was “What was the color of your first car?”… and his profile picture on both AIM and Facebook was him standing in front of his ’98 Wolfpack red Mustang.

Needless to say I enjoyed the vodka :D

Go through all of your challenge-response questions on each site you use, and make sure the answers are information that can’t be easily figured out from your publicly-accessible information on Facebook, Twitter, a blog, or any other sites you use. Otherwise you might be unknowingly giving access to your information to anyone who wants it badly enough.

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8) SEARCH FOR YOURSELF PERIODICALLY
====================

Don’t hesitate to occasionally do a search on your name to see if anyone is impersonating you or has compromised your information. We can get free copies of our credit reports each year to verify our financial health, but few folks realize they can easily check the internet to detect if their information has been compromised as well.

Besides, odds are good potential employers are going to do a Google search on you as part of their background check anyway. Shouldn’t you already know what they’re going to find? ;)

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9) LIMIT WHAT E-COMMERCE INFO YOU STORE ON VENDOR SITES…
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Along with your passwords being at the mercy of a website’s security, the same is true for any credit/debit card information you store with a vendor. Stories of vendor databases being hacked and credit cards being revealed are all over Google yet people still choose to store that information on vendor sites for the sake of convenience.

Don’t do it.

I know it’s annoying to go grab your credit/debit card when you want to make an online purchase, especially if it’s a website you use frequently. But the inconvenience that can be caused by your credit card being compromised by hackers is far bigger than the minor inconvenience of entering in a number each time you use it.

If you do choose to store credit card information online, see if your banking institution provides an automatic card number generator. These are slowly becoming more common with banks and essentially let you create a bunch of “temporary” card numbers linked to your real account, with different restrictions on how long they last or how much money can be charged to them. Using these temporary numbers limit the fallout if a vendor’s database gets hacked.

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10) …AND MOVE QUICK IF SOMETHING IS WRONG
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If, God forbid, you have the misfortune of having your identity stolen — or being harassed by your fiancé’s ex-girlfriends — make sure to move quickly.

Certain information about you is logged every time you do something online. For example, just by reading law:/dev/null or any other blog your computer has shared your IP address (the numeric address designating what computer you’re using to access the site), the browser you’re using, your operating system, and so on. Almost every single site you ever access, especially things like social networks or financial institutions, keep all this information in case it’s ever needed by law enforcement.

The catch is that a lot of this info is only stored for 30 days. If someone has hacked into your email or your Facebook account or something similar, you’ve got a narrow window of time to notify law enforcement to help catch the people responsible. And if someone has obtained your financial information, usually you have to notify your bank immediately to use any identity theft protection they might offer.

Theft of your personal information is one of those instances where procrastination is a certifiably Really Bad Idea™ ;)

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Hope y’all find this info useful :) And if you have any computing security tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments! :D

Postscript: I’d also like to thank professors Sammie Carter and Dr. Annie Antón for their respective Introduction to Computer Security and Privacy Policy, Technology & Law classes at N.C. State. Even though I was among their worst students, I promise I really did learn some things :)

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. It was at least a plausible claim, as the criminal investigation had apparently implicated two other ex-girlfriends in addition to the defendant in this case :crack: []
  2. It was entertaining watching their reactions when they found out it was my major at NC State. []

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