Jeff and Christine's Homeland Security Blog

Homeland Security and Terrorism

Archive for February 2012

Getting the most from your online education.

leave a comment »

Make your education a priority.

Treat your online education like traditional schooling.  Just because the education venue is online, it doesn’t mean you can study “when you have nothing else to do.”  College (online or brick and mortar) is a commitment and you must set aside certain hours to attend school – online lectures, study, reading, doing homework and taking exams.  Making your education part of a weekly routine and sticking to that routine is important to the learning process.  Self-discipline is very important.  A time-management strategy is also important.  Students who have established their own schedules for class find that it helps them ensure time for daily class participation.

Treat it Like Traditional Schooling

Falling behind is easy in online classes… and catching up is tough!  The benefit of an online education is the flexibility and your ability to set a schedule that benefits you and your busy lifestyle.  It is easy to work around your other activities with online classes.  However, you do have deadlines, so you must set aside a block of time EACH day to complete your coursework.  Once students get into the habit of falling behind in their work, they tend to have trouble catching up and keeping current with the coursework.

Get involved?

Don’t be a virtual wallflower!

It is important to participate in your class and interact with your instructor and classmates in order to take full advantage of all your education has to offer. And when you participate, share your thoughts and opinions. Because of the nature of distance learning, many of the pressures associated with socializing are minimized. Your classmates and teacher will get to know you through your thoughts and contributions to the class.

Like so many things in life, online college delivers pretty much what you put into it.  The more you participate in online discussions, question your fellow students and instructor, and show what you know from class readings, the more you will gain from this experience.

Like in a regular classroom setting, you must make an effort to “stand out” in order to be sure your teacher and fellow classmates are aware of you. Interacting with your instructor and classmates is important and should be done as often, and as directly, as possible.  Make sure your posts are relevant and complete, and that you’ve used spell checking, but don’t obsess about your writing skills.  Just as it’s important to speak up in an onsite class, even if you’re not an amazing public speaker, you need to be visible in your online classroom.

Just like in a regular classroom, some students will be more involved than others.  While you are not seated amongst your classmates, the online format and the many options for communication can still make for a very dynamic and engaging experience. For example, most students are required to respond to the posts or comments of other students. Don’t just do the mandatory three or four replies…do as many as you want and really interact with as many classmates as possible.

Communicate with as many classmates as you can, and try to overlook any early misunderstandings between you and your peers.   Disagreements are a vital part of education; they challenge us to think about our own conclusions.  If you find some classmates are consistently obnoxious—or worse, uncommunicative—focus your energies on others who are active in class.  You’ll learn more by exchanging ideas with energetic people, even if you don’t always agree.

Just like attending traditional classes, logging into your course every day for updated messages, emails and other information will allow you be more successful in class.  If your instructor posts announcements and provides guidance, take the time to read it carefully.  You would listen to your instructor’s guidance in an onsite classroom, so don’t cheat yourself out of helpful information by skipping online hints.

Learn to ask questions. Don’t worry about how stupid or silly the questions might be, since you might want to keep in mind that there may be others around you that aren’t familiar with the concepts either.

Online classes can be more fun if you engage in conversations with your peers.  Taking responsibility for your own learning will pay off later.

Join Study Groups.

Yes, even online universities have study groups.  If you don’t see one for your subject area, create one!  There are lots of online tools for collaboration.  Working with a study group is a great way to master new material and get fresh perspectives on the subjects at hand.  Some people are skittish about online colleges because they fear the online experience may be impersonal and isolating. In fact, Internet-based technologies offer opportunities to establish all manners of relationships with students and instructors, friendships that can endure well beyond graduation. Take advantage of them.

Seek Help When You Need It.

Many online colleges have support systems in place to help students succeed at their studies. This can include everything from help with online financing to psychological counseling and career services support for graduates.  There’s also academic help on writing and study skills, two key areas for a new college student’s success.  If you need help, never be afraid to ask for it. It’s part of what you’re paying for.

Don’t Lose Touch.

Going to school is a great opportunity to network with instructors and fellow students.  Keep these networks active even after graduation. You never know when someone will be in a position to help you get ahead — or you’ll be able to help someone else.  Most jobs are found through personal networks, and it’s not too early to start building yours.

Written by Homeland Security

February 24, 2012 at 00:59

Technology marches on

with one comment

Technology doesn’t stand still in the Homeland Security field!  Several recent developments—from the fields of information technology, biometric engineering, and social psychology—are worth a closer look.  These are all available on the Homeland Security Newswire, which offers current reporting on technological developments in the security profession.


Many of us have probably felt our computers know more than we do at times, but we can still change and adapt, while they get obsolete, right?  Right… but there are now indications that snippets of programmed code have recombined in ways their creators never planned.  Unfortunately, these bits of code are malwareviruses and worms.  Viruses have been seen to accidentally make use of worms, propagating themselves more effectively in a “malware sandwich” or “Frankenmalware.”  According to a post at the Malware City blog, this is how it can happen:

Now, another “practice” has silently emerged: the file infector that accidentally parasites another e-threat. A virus infects executable files; and a worm is an executable file. If the virus reaches a PC already compromised by a worm, the virus will infect the exe files on that PC – including the worm. When the worm spreads, it will carry the virus with it. Although this happens unintentionally, the combined features from both pieces of malware will inflict a lot more damage than the creators of either piece of malware intended.

It may also be that in some cases, cleaning by antivirus programs may help altered malware escape detection.  Read more at

Handy fingerprints?

Biometric systems are increasingly common.  However, the need for stationary equipment to read and process prints has limited its utility in some fields.  Now, researchers at Neurotechnology have developed an application which allows smartphones and other mobile devices to run scans almost anywhere.  The mobile products contain the same algorithms as the company’s PC-based versions of their products, which meet AFIS-level recognition standards.  Homeland Security Newswire explains that these devices can handle fingerprint or facial recognition quickly, with iris and voice capabilities on the way:

The company says that VeriFinger Embedded and VeriLook Embedded can process fingerprint or face images in less than one second using a device with a 1GHz or better processor. The first available release of the new MegaMatcher Embedded product includes VeriFinger and VeriLook fingerprint and face biometric algorithms, and versions incorporating iris and voice biometrics are planned in the coming months.

To find out how to keep your biometrics close at hand, see

Happy, sad, silly, mad

Remember learning about smiles and frowns in preschool?  Actually, sorting out human facial expressions isn’t so simple, but researchers at King’s College London have isolated the characteristics of a face displaying anxiety.  Their research, published recently in in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows that the emotion we call anxiety is expressed by an environmental scanning look that appears to aid risk assessment:

The characteristics of the facial expression for anxiety comprised darting eyes and head swivels that echoed the risk assessment behavior of anxious rodents. These results suggest that the anxious facial expression in humans serves to increase information gathering and knowledge of the potentially threatening environment through expanding the individual’s visual and auditory fields. Therefore the anxious facial expression appears to have both functional and social components — its characteristics help assess our surrounding environment, and communicate to others our emotional state.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Adam Perkins, noted that the findings could help security personnel identify individuals engaged in wrongdoing by means of their anxious, risk assessing facial expression, as well as helping mental health professionals assess their patients.

For more on how anxiety is manifested in people’s expressions, see