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Registrar Will Provide Online Grade Access

Students to Use New PINs for Services

By Matthew W. Granade

The 20 Garden Street Office of the Registrar will soon be arriving at dorm rooms across the College courtesy of the Internet.

Instead of trekking Quadward, beginning this fall students will be able to pull up the "Registrar Online" homepage on their computers, enter their personal identification numbers (PIN) and view their spring grades from the screen.

Staff from the Registrar's Office and programmers from Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services (HASCS) have spent the summer planning and creating the new site and will upload various parts of students' transcripts over the next year.

Although officials from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) have been discussing such a project for over a year, Harvard is not a pioneer in this kind of service. Boston College, Boston University, University of Arizona and University of Michigan are some of the many colleges that make grades available to students in similar ways.

Registrar Arlene Becella said she hopes to have Spring '97 grades posted by September, then place students' Fall '97 classes online by October and upload the remainder of students' grades during the school year. Through the new Web site, students will then be able to access their individual information.

A full transcript--which includes information in addition to grades--will not be available online for sometime, Becella said. Because the Registrar's Office stores some transcript information--such as transfer credit--in different databases, programmers have had difficulty interlacing this information with grades.

Safeguarding the new site's sensitive data was the programmers' major design concern, according to Becella.

"Even to sniff on this line would involve breaking into a manhole or climbing telephone poles," said Rick Osterberg '96, HASCS's coordinator of residential support. 'Sniffing' allows hackers to view the information travelling on a network line.

The registrar's office will send the data to the Science Center on a direct, secure line and will encrypt the information, meaning it will be scrambled and rendered unreadable without specific codes and proper decoding tools.

Only student identification numbers--not names--will be attached to the grades both during transmission and viewing as an extra precaution.

There will also most likely be just one HASCS employee with password access to the Science Center server where grades will be stored, Osterberg said. Once grades are on the server, the data will constantly be monitored for changes, a kind of motion detector that will alert officials of an unwanted presence on the machine.

Officials admit that the weakest link in the safeguards is the PIN itself which, if not protected by students, can open a hotbed of sensitive information. With another person's PIN and student I.D. number, someone could quickly download that person's grades without being detected--a loophole that worries administrators.

"Students who are not careful with their passwords or PINs cannot expect to be more secure than those who lend out their room keys or leave their doors unlocked," said Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68.

Registrar Online will also have a page for students which explains extra precautions they can take to make sure their grades are safely transmitted, including instructions on ensuring that the information is transmitted encrypted to the students' computer.

Once the basic mechanism is in place, College officials said they hope to provide an array of other sensitive information to students over the Internet, including the status of students' term bills and financial aid information. Students could also request transcripts and check the status of add/drop petitions online.

Becella said she also plans a variety of other services for the office's page in the future. A course catalog with entries linked to course Web pages, information on class times and locations and, eventually, descriptions of class textbooks figure into the long-range plan

Registrar Online will also have a page for students which explains extra precautions they can take to make sure their grades are safely transmitted, including instructions on ensuring that the information is transmitted encrypted to the students' computer.

Once the basic mechanism is in place, College officials said they hope to provide an array of other sensitive information to students over the Internet, including the status of students' term bills and financial aid information. Students could also request transcripts and check the status of add/drop petitions online.

Becella said she also plans a variety of other services for the office's page in the future. A course catalog with entries linked to course Web pages, information on class times and locations and, eventually, descriptions of class textbooks figure into the long-range plan

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