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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Students, education, and using the Internet

Provided by Information Systems

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 09 - October 19, 1995

Part of education is the acquisition and refinement of those values and behaviors that eventually come to define the quality of our lives. In this respect, our students come to us as works-in-progress, particularly when it comes to the use of university computing networks (including the Internet) where the quality of electronic life is heavily dependent on the still-amorphous concept of good "network citizenship."

We find that some students move on to the network and don't immediately apply to this new environment rules of behavior analogous to those they routinely follow in other aspects of daily life.

The results can cause problems not only for the students but also for faculty and staff members who may observe these problems and not know quite where to turn.

For example:

Some individuals who generally do not behave badly otherwise will "flame" (send angry, obscene, or insulting notes) on the network. Pyramid-type money-making schemes, like chain letters, that use the United States Postal Service, are both illegal and irritating to most people and we rarely receive them. Yet some don't think twice about propagating such materials on the network. People who never in their lives have harassed anyone by phone or letter will sometimes give it a try through e-mail.

In these and other cases, most of us recognize behaviors that are no more acceptable on the network than anywhere else. Those few who don't often fail to anticipate consequences:

1. Students who flame on the network (especially in a public forum like a "listserv list" or a "newsgroup") frequently regret it almost immediately. Network recipients can (and often do) copy and forward the offending material to a few thousand of their closest friends some of whom don't hesitate to "flash-back" with equally inappropriate messages that quickly make the entire experience very unpleasant. Copies of offensive notes almost always come back to campus authorities with requests that we provide for the author a little "extra instruction." A flame may be a crime if it contains threats, in which case the matter will be referred to the police.

2. Electronic chain letters can propagate exponentially on the network in a very short time, clogging networks and computers, degrading e-mail service, and generally irritating all concerned.

3. Harassment is harassment, regardless of the mechanism. Our novice networkers are often surprised to find that, in keeping with Internet policy, participating institutions do not allow truly anonymous access to the network. Logs are kept that allow network traffic to be traced to its source when necessary.

Virginia Tech tries to promote good network citizenship starting with its policy on "Acceptable Use of Information Systems." All students and faculty and staff members are subject to the provisions of this policy and you may wish to take a few minutes to review it.

The dramatic growth of network use in recent years has brought an increase in problems. Questions about acceptable use may be submitted through the Computing Center's 4HELP service which will refer them appropriately to those who can help. If you're in doubt, feel free to contact us. After all, if it's not a good idea other places, it's probably an even worse idea on our network. We do our students no favors if we don't help them figure that out.

Acceptable Use of Information Systems at Virginia Tech1

General Principles

Access to computer systems and networks owned or operated by Virginia Tech imposes certain responsibilities and obligations and is granted subject to university policies, and local, state, and federal laws.

Acceptable use always is ethical, reflects academic honesty, and shows restraint in the consumption of shared resources. It demonstrates respect for intellectual property, ownership of data, system security mechanisms, and individuals' rights to privacy and to freedom from intimidation, harassment, and unwarranted annoyance.


In making acceptable use of resources you must:

* use resources only for authorized purposes.

* protect your userid and system from unauthorized use. You are responsible for all activities on your userid or that originate from your system.

* access only files and data that are your own, that are publicly available, or to which you have been given authorized access.

* use only legal versions of copyrighted software in compliance with vendor license requirements.

* be considerate in your use of shared resources. Refrain from monopolizing systems, overloading networks with excessive data, or wasting computer time, connect time, disk space, printer paper, manuals, or other resources.

In making acceptable use of resources you must NOT:

* use another person's system, userid, password, files, or data without permission.

* use computer programs to decode passwords or access-control information or attempt to circumvent or subvert system or network security measures.

* engage in any activity that might be harmful to systems or to any information stored thereon, such as creating or propagating viruses, disrupting services, or damaging files.

* use university systems for commercial or partisan political purposes, such as using electronic mail to circulate advertising for products or for political candidates.

* make or use illegal copies of copyrighted software, store such copies on university systems, or transmit them over university networks.

* use mail or messaging services to harass, intimidate, or otherwise annoy another person, for example, by broadcasting unsolicited messages or sending unwanted mail.

* waste computing resources, for example, by intentionally placing a program in an endless loop or by printing excessive amounts of paper.

* use the university's systems or networks for personal gain; for example, by selling access to your userid or to university systems or networks, or by performing work for profit with university resources in a manner not authorized by the university.

* engage in any other activity that does not comply with the general principles presented above.


The university considers any violation of acceptable-use principles or guidelines to be a serious offense and reserves the right to copy and examine any files or information resident on university systems allegedly related to unacceptable use. Violators are subject to disciplinary action as prescribed in the honor codes and the student and employee handbooks. Offenders also may be prosecuted under laws including (but not limited to) the Privacy Protection Act of 1974, The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, the Computer Virus Eradication Act of 1989, Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property, the Virginia Computer Crimes Act, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Access to the text of these laws is available through the Reference Department of Newman Library.

1 Individuals using computer systems owned by Virginia Tech do so subject to applicable laws and university policies. Virginia Tech disclaims any responsibility and/or warranties for information and materials residing on non-university systems or available over publicly accessible networks. Such materials do not necessarily reflect the attitudes, opinions, or values of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tech, its faculty, staff, or students.