Thursday, November 4, 2010

News Around Security and Reliablity of Online Application Systems

November 4, 2010 - As November begins, so does the home stretch for college application deadlines, a time when guidance counselors, students and parents feel the pressure. Indeed, completing the required forms and essays, gathering the necessary transcripts and recommendation letters and then submitting them all on time can weigh heavily on many. In recent years, the online application process has emerged as the preferred method for submitting applications.

Here at ConnectEDU we are pleased to see guidance counselors, parents and students confidently and successfully using our SuperAPP tool as their seamless and secure process for getting their materials in on time, electronically.

However, in the last week, two key events took place in the online education technology space, which we felt it necessary to respond to. Both events put fear and uncertainty in the hearts of students and guidance counselors regarding the reliability and security of the web-based college application process and the systems that support it.

First, the Associated Press reported the troubling news that the personal information (including Social Security numbers and grades) of over 40,000 former University of Hawaii students were posted online for over a year. A faculty member inadvertently uploaded these files to an unprotected server. Here is a link to view the AP story: (

Secondly, we were recently made aware of a significant issue with The Common Application (TCA), regarding the reliability of their system. In a memo that reached us from concerned college deans and guidance counselors, management at TCA asked that anxious college applicants and school officials not be penalized for applications late in arriving due to delays at the processing centers used by TCA. These delays occurred because TCA’s system was not prepared to handle the growing volume of online college applications and the underlying technologies are archaic and non-scalable.

At ConnectEDU, we are saddened to think about the students and administrators who are going to be increasingly impacted by these challenges and the liabilities that they create. We value how critical it is for online application management technology to be built for security, growth and reliability, which is why we have taken a different approach in building our company and designing our platform for success.

We have built our college application management tool, SuperAPP, knowing that fast adoption is expected and that we would need to scale our technology for quick growth and increased capacity. Whereas many of the disparate application solutions are using eFax networks that, in turn, use optical character recognition (OCR) to back into XML data transcripts, we know that this is a model that cannot scale well. Some of these platforms only accept PDF’s that are scanned into the interface, resulting in little-to-no value to the receiving college. The combination of OCR with web forms and PDF’s starts to create issues that, while expected, remain difficult to fix. Worse still, they represent serious security concerns.

ConnectEDU will not risk having any student’s college application arrive late. That is why we have built our data infrastructure and back-end support in a thoughtful, measured way, providing a solution that allows the full college application package to be sent through a single, true electronic data feed, as opposed to gluing a group of existing systems together. We know that previous solutions in the marketplace, many of which have been cobbled together over time, will continue to experience these shortcomings. In short, security is at risk when PDF and eFax systems are being used for transmitting sensitive information such as academic records and college application materials.

We wanted to respond to these incidents as quickly as possible, because administrators, students and parents need to be confident that the system they use for the online college application process will perform as expected at all times, regardless of high capacity windows leading up to deadlines. College applications are deadline-driven and no student can afford to be in a position of risk when it comes to meeting these deadlines. Timing and safe delivery are vital.

We have done our homework in developing our technology. Our platform has taken longer to build and has been more expensive to create, all because we choose to invest in the success of every student who applies to college through SuperApp. We are confident that we will always deliver on our promise.

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