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Online Preregistration Ready for Fall Term


Courtesy of Student Services Re-engineering
The Web-based Student Information System, available at http://student.mit.edu, will eventually allow students to access their account balances with the Bursar's Office by May 12. A pre-release version is shown here. Online preregistration started yesterday via the World Wide Web. Personal digital certificates and Secure Socket Layer encryption protect student information.

By Douglas E.Heimburger
Associate News Editor

MIT's electronic Student Information System, long limited to use only in Athena Clusters, is being replaced by a new, more flexible World Wide Web-based system. As of now, students can preregister for fall term classes over the Web.

The preregistration process, which started yesterday, is only part of the new WebSIS system. By May 12, biographical, financial, and grade information will also be available at the site, which is located at http://student.mit.edu.

As the new Web-based system comes up to speed, the current Athena-based SIS will be discontinued because both systems cannot be simultaneously updated, said Jagruti S. Patel '97, who leads the studentaccess team of student services re-engineering. The new system should be more accessible than the old Athena-based system because any computer running Netscape Navigator 3.0 can access it.

Also, the new preregistration will be easier for students than the older Web-based system, said Mary R. Callahan, assistant registrar for facilities and scheduling. WebSIS allowed the Registar's Office to extend the deadline for preregistration to May 31 since information no longer has to be transcribed from paper.

The new system appears to be popular with students. By 11 a.m. yesterday, 73 students had preregistered with the new system, Callahan said. Six students registered within five minutes of the system's opening.

The enhancements to WebSISplanned for mid-May will give the system additional flexibility. Students will be able to view biographical, financial, and grade information, Patel said. Students will also be able to update additional addresses, including temporary and parent billing addresses, which was impossible in the Athena version of SIS. In addition, WebSIS will have information on the status of billing issues.

Transcript request forms and student address withholding forms, among others, will also be available online, where students can print them. Enhancements, however, may make printing unnecessary. "Eventually, some forms will be submitted" electronically,Patel said.

Registration integrates lotteries

The new Web-based preregistration system provides feedback to users if there is a scheduling conflict, Callahan said. But "it's up to the student to make an informed decision" on whether to schedule conflicting classes.

In addition, students who wish to enter classes offered at the Sloan School of Management or other lottery classes will enter the class lottery on the Web. The Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Distributionlottery still must be entered separately because it has not yet moved to the Web, although such an interface is planned.

Students will be able to change their preregistration information on the WebSISsystem until mid-August,Callahan said. Still, "we want [students] to take the May preregistration seriously," because many classes change their times when they discover that students have scheduling conflicts, Callahan said. The fall term schedules will be continually updated at http://registrar.mit.edu.

System uses digital certificates

In order to protect the security of personal information available on the WebSIS system, students must first download their own "personal certificate" which will identify them to the system, Callahan said.

The certificates can be generated and downloaded from the Web page, said InformationSystems Network Manager Jeffrey I.Schiller '79, who implemented the certificate technology.

The user can choose to encrypt the downloaded certificate with a "Netscape password." "This password is never stored anywhere, including on the Web browser where you use it," Schiller said.

The ISprocess for downloading the industry-standard certificates currently only works with Netscape 3.0 or higher. "We are working on support for [Microsoft] Internet Explorer, but it isn't ready yet," Schiller said.

The digital certificate technology is more advanced than most other schools' student information systems, said Associate Manager of Student Information Services JoAnne Stevenson.

SSL encryption protects data

In addition to using personal certificates, the new WebSIS system uses the Secure Sockets Layer protocol to protect all data transmitted to or from the server, Callahan said.

Export versions of Netscape, such as the default version on Athena, use 40-bit security. In January, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley broke a 40-bit key in under four hours as part of a challenge issued by RSAData Security, Inc.

U.S.-only versions of Netscape incorporate 128-bit security, Schiller said. Athena users should use the netscape-US' command to invoke the stronger program.