Open Wikis and the protection of institutional welfare

7 Feb 2012

Web 2.0 technologies facilitate knowledge sharing, interaction, and collaboration through user- generated content. No paradigm has embodied these qualities more purely than the wiki. Central to the wiki philosophy is the ability of participants not just to add content but also to modify content.
Higher education is both a consumer and a producer of wiki content. The online collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia, for example, is frequently used as a research device (although usually informally). On public wikis faculty and staff might modify content that pertains to the institution or its sponsored research. Moreover, institutionally supported wikis are becoming increasingly common as a platform for hosting IT help desks, course web pages, or as centralized repositories for knowledge about a particular academic domain.
Much has been written about wikis’ reliability and use in the classroom. This research bulletin addresses the negative impacts on institutional welfare that can arise from participating in and supporting wikis. The open nature of the platform, which is fundamental to wiki operation and success, enables these negative consequences. Security implications are minimized when a finite wiki user base can be determined a priori (e.g., a course roster; see the subsection “Securing Institutionally Supported Wikis”), hence our discussion in this bulletin primarily concerns open or public wikis that accept contributions from a broad and unknown set of Internet users. Our recent research focuses on the malicious behaviors enabled by open wikis. The ease of access to public wikis spurred our investigations; consider that a damaging wiki edit could be seen by thousands of people while imposing near-zero marginal costs on the attacker. Quite simply, the security of the platform has not fully matured—a disparity our research aims to correct.
Authors: Andrew G. West, University of Pennsylvania; Insup Lee, University of Pennsylvania

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