Adventist IT professionals offer tech advice on security, app development


 Day two of the Global Adventist Internet Network conference featured the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s top IT professionals dispensing advice and tips on cyber security, app development and the use of geographic software for more effective regional mission.

GAiN this year is being held online and is drawing participants from nearly 70 countries.

David Greene, IT director for the denomination’s North American Division, began with a presentation on best practices for cyber security. He urged Church IT professionals to consistently test their sites for vulnerabilities and update their security methods.

Greene said that 80 percent of website security certificates will be obsolete in two years, and it’s important to re-key certificates regularly. He also urged Church Web developers to acquire domain names from official registrars certified by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Greene warned against several new vulnerabilities since last year’s GAiN conference, including encryption problems POODLE and Heartbleed, as well as the software vulnerabilities GHOST and Shellshock. IT employees can test their websites for vulnerabilities with SSL Labs and Shellshocker.net.

“We have a responsibility to have several layers of protection in place against the things we might not know are going on,” Greene told the online audience. “This isn’t about making websites trustworthy, this is about being trustworthy ourselves—worthy of the trust our visitors have in our websites.”

In a follow-up panel discussion, Greene was joined by Josh R. Rosales, IT director for General Conference Treasury SunPlus. Rosales urged IT directors to rethink shared hosting. “Yes it can be more cost effective, but you don’t know who else is being hosted on that server, and you could be subject to adverse reaction as the result of attacks to company websites whose values do not align with yours.”

Rosales and Greene also said organizations should have policies and protocols to warn their users if data has been breached.

Jerry Chase, a pastor in the U.S. state of Ohio and a Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist, presented the benefits of using GIS for mission. GIS is an analytical tool that uses software to combine information from databases and spreadsheets to reveal special relations on a map.

Chase cited the example of the coffee company Starbucks, which has effectively used GIS to open strategically-located stores. That move has been instrumental in revitalizing the corporation’s slumping sales and sagging share price. Chase said GIS can similarly help the Church answer as how many Adventists live in a particular area or which areas lack Adventist outreach.

The Church has used GIS in several instances, Chase said. He cited the independent, supporting ministry Adventist Frontier Mission using GIS 15 years ago to locate unreached people groups in Thailand. Because of that research, there is now an Adventist congregation among the Northern Khmer people, as well as an Adventist radio station.

Chase urged church leaders to use GIS in order to make decisions on “valid facts and statistics” instead of “decisions based on hunches anecdotal information.”

The realization of the potential GIS could offer the Church is growing, he said.

“There has been a growing coalition of [Adventist] leaders from IT, Global Mission, and Communications who are working toward a connected, interactive data system to assist leaders in making important mission critical decisions.”

A panel discussion highlighted how Church leaders at the denomination’s headquarters had tasked its Office of Archives, Statistics and Research to examine world regions of membership growth, plateau or decline.

A conference participant in Venezuela said he used GIS to map strategic small group meeting locations.

Participants this week are sending questions to discussion panels on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #GAiN15.

Harvey Alférez, professor at the School of Engineering and Technology at Montemorelos University in Mexico, then delivered a presentation on building mobile apps.

Alférez focused on the development of an idea and making sure it helped solve a problem in a different way than existing apps. The developer, he said, should make sure the idea is put to paper in a project management strategy with wireframes.

The building of the app itself can be done. But said he didn’t recommend cloud-based tools because of the expense.

Several participants throughout the day asked if a register of Adventist apps existed. Italo Osorio, a senior web manager for the Adventist Church headquarters, said his team would soon work to develop one. That move would help eliminate duplication efforts of local Church members working on their own apps or “reinventing the wheel,” said Daryl Gungadoo, global research and development engineer for Adventist World Radio.

Gungadoo then co-presented with Sven Fockner of Germany’s Stimme der Hoffnung media center on how Bible correspondence schools can offer a greater variety of learning styles.

Gungadoo said there are at least nine ways people learn, such as words, pictures, music, personal interaction and feeling. Bible Correspondence schools have typically offered one or two approaches, mostly based on words. The four primary Adventist Bible correspondence schools—in the U.S., Germany, Australia and Brazil—are being encouraged to offer lessons that cater to all nine learning styles.

“Our plea is to get us all thinking to produce that way,” Gungadoo said. Artificial intelligence technology will soon detect a person’s learning style and match them with the right approach for them, he added.

GAiN runs through Sunday, February 15. Presentations and live discussions are held three times each day to accommodate participants in time zones worldwide. To register and participate in this free event, visit gain.adventist.org, where presentations will also be posted a few weeks after the conference.

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