Monday, January 30, 2012

Is Your Password (Still) 123456?

The Goodson Blogson has written before on the topic of weak passwords, which are sadly common in cyberspace. Back then, our post on the topic cited a 2007 study of the most popular—and vulnerable-- online passwords, including 123456, password, qwerty, and abc123. In November, the password-management outfit SplashData released a list of the "25 Worst Passwords of 2011", which revealed that those laughably bad passwords remain at the top of the list more than four years later (and no, "passw0rd" – which also made the 2011 list – isn't really an improvement).

To help combat this crummy-password epidemic, gadget blog Gizmodo has declared Wednesday, February 1st to be “Change Your Password Day”. Their site explains the vulnerabilities in common passwords, and offers tips for strengthening them, including strategies for creating a memorable “pass phrase” which incorporates more difficult-to-crack length and a variety of letters, numbers and symbols. Duke’s own IT Security Office also maintains a page of helpful tips for selecting passwords that are both strong and memorable.

Gizmodo has also created a helpful list of “The Best Times to Change Your Passwords”, which depends upon the sensitivity of the information stored in the account. But for many readers, it’s obvious that the correct answer is “right now.” For assistance with your email and account security, visit the Academic Technologies Help Desk.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Death Index, Be Not Proud

It has been said (by several people, according to the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations) that nothing is certain but death and taxes. But someone has to keep track of such inevitabilities, and for death in the United States, that’s the Social Security Administration. Their ominously-named Death Master File may not be perfect (the Scripps Howard News Service investigative report Grave Mistakes estimated that more than 1,000 names per month are erroneously added), but the records are invaluable for the confirmation of birth and death dates as well as the prevention of identity theft and insurance fraud, among other purposes.

Unfortunately, the public version of the Death Master File has also been misused in some of the same activities that it was intended to prevent. The Public DMF, more commonly known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), was created in 1980 as the result of a federal court order from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. It was made available to the public as a subscription service through a partnership with the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which sells subscriptions and updates to third parties, including for free at the popular genealogy research site as well as premium legal research services like LexisNexis (Public Records > Find a Person > Social Security Death Master) and Westlaw (database short name: DEATH). Following some high-profile incidents of tax fraud using the Social Security numbers of the recently deceased, even the plaintiff in the original FOIA lawsuit has since spoken publicly about restricting access to the sensitive information contained in the SSDI.

In November 2011, the Social Security Administration amended its policies regarding access to “protected state records,” or “death records we receive through our contracts with the States.” The Death Master File FAQ on SSA's website points out that their death reports are received from a variety of sources, including “family members, funeral homes, hospitals, States, Federal agencies, postal authorities and financial institutions.” Although the change affects only the state government records, the Administration estimates that the average number of deaths disclosed in the public DMF will be cut by almost one-third going forward. In addition, the Administration plans to remove more than 4 million historic records which fall into the "protected state records" category.

In response, last month moved its formerly-free version of the SSDI behind a paywall (although initial searches and preliminary result lists are still free). Other providers (including LexisNexis and Westlaw) have also scrambled to make their users aware of the new policies. This change to the SSDI serves as a valuable reminder for researchers to always check the "scope note" for information about coverage in a particular database, since contents may change unexpectedly. On LexisNexis and Westlaw, these can be found by clicking the "i" icons next to a database name. For help deciphering database coverage, or for assistance with researching public records, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Secrets of a Successful Semester

It's only a few weeks into the new semester, but maybe you’re already feeling confused by a tricky legal concept or a hard-to-parse holding. Don’t ignore it until you’re making your final-exam outlines - take a look at some study aids! Before you drop a fortune on flash cards and commercial outlines, visit the Goodson Law Library for some of the most popular study aids around:

  • Examples and Explanations Series: Titles in this series are written by law professors who give a narrative overview of the key concepts and rules for a particular subject, followed by "examples" (hypothetical questions) and “explanations” of the answers. Search the catalog for title keywords "examples and explanations" to retrieve a list of all available titles. Current editions are available on Reserve, with older editions available for longer checkout in the Stacks. (Did a classmate beat you to the title you needed? Note that many of these titles are also available in “Preview” mode on Google Books.)
  • Hornbooks: These one-volume books are written especially for law students and summarize specific areas of law in a narrative form. Most hornbooks are available in two editions: Practitioner's and Student's. The practitioner's edition usually contains additional chapters which discuss practical issues, such as preparing for trial. The library usually has the current edition of both versions in the Reserves collection; previous editions are available in the Stacks.
  • Mastering... Series: These slim volumes provide a basic overview of a specific area of law, with minimal footnotes. They are available on most law school course subjects, shelved in the Stacks alongside other works on the topic, and their locations can be found in the catalog with a title keyword search for “mastering [subject]”.
  • Nutshell Series: These pocket-sized books contain a comprehensive outline of a specific subject, usually written by a noted authority. Nutshells provide a big-picture look at the law and avoid in-depth analysis. They contain fewer footnotes and references than hornbooks, but generally give greater coverage of a subject than commercial study outlines. The most current Nutshells are in the Reserves collection.
  • Q&A series: Books in this series provide a review of legal subjects using a multiple-choice and short-answer question format. The library owns selected titles, particularly in subject areas where multiple-choice exams are commonplace. To locate available titles, conduct a title keyword search for "questions and answers and [subject]". (A similar multiple-choice approach is taken in the Glannon Guides, which are also available in the library’s collection for selected subjects.)
  • Understanding... Series: Published by LexisNexis on a variety of legal topics, this series can be found with a title keyword search of the catalog for "understanding [subject]". The Understanding series contain an overview of an area of law, with footnotes to primary sources for further reading.

For those who prefer a more interactive approach to studying, don’t forget about CALI lessons – the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction offers online tutorials on more than 800 legal topics. You can pick up a CALI CD at the library service desk, or request a registration code for the online versions from the Reference Desk or online with your NetID. Beginning this semester, students are able to save their progress in online lessons in order to resume them later. See the CALI FAQ for details, or Ask a Librarian to recommend study aids for your topic.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year, New Databases

A new year always brings new changes, and 2012 is no exception. This year, there’s a Presidential election, and (some say) maybe even the end of the world. But before that Mayan calendar runs out, we can enjoy some small-scale changes closer to home: the New Year will ring in the return of the library's evening and weekend services (on Sunday, January 8), and also an extension to Standard Loan borrowing periods for Duke Law students, other Duke graduate students, and non-Law Duke faculty/staff.

The new year also often brings changes to the library's electronic subscriptions, as newly acquired content is added to databases and the full-text of titles from expired licenses are removed. (This generally happens behind the scenes, but if you encounter outdated links to e-resources which no longer work correctly, be sure to report them to library staff for investigation.) One database making some big additions for 2012 is NC Live, or North Carolina Libraries for Virtual Education. NC Live is an online service which provides a large collection of electronic databases to state residents through their local libraries. Many of Duke University's online databases are provided by this service; you may notice a "Brought to You by NC Live" logo when logging in to certain resources.

As the site announced in mid-December, NC Live has added several new services and upgraded a few existing ones with additional full-text content. One especially useful addition at the Goodson Law Library is the Legal Information Reference Center, an e-book collection of popular law titles from Nolo Press and other legal self-help publishers, many of which are featured in the library’s research guide for non-lawyers. Individual book titles should be linked in the Duke Libraries catalog, but users can also browse the list directly by logging in with their NetID here.

Perhaps the best news of all for many Goodson Blogson readers – since NC Live is a statewide program, these resources are available to users beyond Duke University. If you don't have a current Duke NetID and password, visit NC Live directly to select your library affiliation; you may need to enter your library card number or other method of authentication (consult your local library staff for assistance).

As always, for help with navigating the library's electronic resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.