Information Technology and Communications Services
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Information Technology and Communications
USAP personnel check the equipment at Lake Bonney field camp
US Antarctic Program communications personnel check the equipment that provides the Lake Bonney field camp with internet and phone service communications.

Participant Guidance (FAQs)

Find answers regarding information security training, device screenings, software and hardware requirements, and other information about using technology at the United States Antarctic stations.

IT&C Divisions

Learn about the different divisions that build and maintain the USAP Information Technology and Communications infrastructure.

USAP Mailing Lists

Several list servers are used for disseminating USAP information or providing a forum for list member postings. Find mailing lists and subscription information here.

Station Satellite Schedules

McMurdo Station, Palmer Station, and the USAP Vessels have limited 24-hour access to satellite communications. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station makes use of a series of satellites to provide a limited daily window of connectivity. learn about the satellites and find schedules for satellite connections here.

IT Security Policies

Participant Guidance (FAQs)

Click the body of each topic to view additional information.

  • What training is required to connect my computer (laptop or desktop) to the USAP network?

    All participants who need to utilize a computer or device on the USAP network are required to take the USAP Security Awareness Training. You can complete this training at the USAP Online learning Center.

    If you are a new participant, click "Sign Up" on the right side of the screen and follow the instructions to create a new account. The required access code can be found in your deployment packet. If you are unable to locate the access code or are a returning participant and don't recall your username and password, contact the USAP Help Desk at helpdesk@usap.gov.

    McMurdo and South Pole Participants: It is highly recommended that you take the online training before you deploy. Due to access issues to personal email on stations (due to bandwidth) you may not be able to complete this training in a timely fashion on ice. Best to complete while you have timely access to the internet and your personal email.

    If USAP participants are unable to take the online training, they must contact the Denver Help Desk (helpdesk@usap.gov).

  • Does my computer/device need to be screened prior to connecting?

    Yes. The screening process will require technicians to access your personal or non-USAP issued computer or device. Here are the device screening processes for the various USAP locations:

    McMurdo, South Pole Station, and Christchurch
    Devices must be screened in Christchurch prior to deployment to the ice. Christchurch USAP staff will provide instructions on where to drop off your computer/device and when.

    Palmer Station
    Devices will be screened by station IT&C staff once you arrive at Palmer station.

    Vessels (RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer or ARSV Lawrence M. Gould)
    Devices will be screened by vessel IT&C staff either in Punta Arenas or on-board the vessel once you arrive.

  • What does my computer (laptop or desktop) require in order to connect to the USAP network?

    Operating System and Software Patches
    Devices running an operating system (OS) must be running a version supported by the vendor within the last six months of deploying to a USAP site. The OS must include the latest security patches available and be configured for automatic updates. Applications running on the system must also be patched when patches are released by the software vendor.

    Anti-Virus
    All computers (desktop, laptop, tablet that are capable) must have antivirus software running at the current version and be configured for auto-updates. Computers must be virus free prior to connecting to the USAP network and maintain the current DAT version as updates are available(a full system scan must be run within 7 days prior to screening.) Once connected, the user is expected to maintain their ant-virus software with current data files and to run scans at least weekly.

    Connectivity
    Participants must provide all the equipment necessary to connect the computer system to the USAP network, including the Network Interface Card (NIC), external dongles or attachments used by the NIC, device drivers, etc. All equipment must be in working order.

    Current Requirements for Common Operating Systems:

    **current as of 11 August, 2017

    Microsoft Windows Computers
    Operating System Windows 7, 8 or 10
    Anti-Virus Installed and current within the last week
    Apple Computers
    Operating System Mac OS X 10.10.5
    Anti-Virus Installed and current within the last week
    Linux Computers
    Operating System All variants allowed provided they are currently supported by the vendor and are able to receive timely security patches
    Anti-Virus Installed and current within the last week
    disclaimer NOTE
    At the time of your computer screening, if you determine your OS has recently (within 6 months) gone out of USAP compliance, you may request a 6-month grace period for having an Operating System that meets the above requirements. This grace period is meant to allow for computers to be packed well in advance of deployment and for you to continue using an Operating System on-ice that may have just gone “out of compliance”. Once on ice, your opportunities to download/update your Operating System may be limited or not available. It is recommended you update your Operating System to the latest version possible just prior to deployment if you are concerned.
  • I am deploying to McMurdo, any additional tips?

    Each USAP Antarctic station has its own limitations and mission requirements. McMurdo, being the largest station, has the most restrictive rules for network and internet access due to the large population and substantial amount of mission network traffic.

    Calling home:
    You will be able to call off-continent from your room or work center. Phone calls from McMurdo are routed through Denver, so calls to any 303 or 720 area code are free of charge. Personal calls to other area codes can be made using a long distance calling card or service which should be purchased/arranged prior to your deployment. These services can be found online.

    Specific calling instructions can be found on the McMurdo Intranet upon your arrival, or by calling the McMurdo Help Desk.

    Prior to arriving in Christchurch, we recommend the following for your personal or non-USAP computer:

    Operating System and Anti-virus Updates
    All updates must be downloaded and installed prior to arriving in McMurdo, and ideally before arriving in Christchurch. Your hotel in Christchurch will likely charge you for internet by the amount of data you use. Don’t get stuck paying for updates you could have done for free at home. Once you are in McMurdo, updating via limited bandwidth could literally take days. Check for updates a couple of days before you leave for your Airport of Departure.

    Cloud Storage
    By default, Cloud storage applications like Google Drive, DropBox, OneDrive, etc.. are blocked due to the amount of bandwidth consumed by auto-syncing these applications. You will need to make sure you have local copies all of the files you need that you store or back-up with a cloud storage. You may not be able to download or access these files once you get to McMurdo.

    Start-Up Items
    Applications such as those listed below should be removed from Start-Up and are blocked from McMurdo. *You will not be able to use any of the following from McMurdo:

    • Torrent Clients
    • Skype
    • Facetime
    • Spotify

    Video Chat:
    All video chat is blocked on all personal devices and all USAP workstations. Exceptions are provided for pre-approved Outreach activities only. These Outreach exceptions should have been requested in Grantee SIP’s and approved in advance.

    Although Skype and FaceTime are blocked for all personal and work computers, there is a public Skype/FaceTime kiosk available for McMurdo residents to use once weekly.

    Wireless Access:
    Wireless access at McMurdo is very limited and is designated for specific mission supporting business functions only. Do not plan on having wireless access to the USAP network from your personal or non-USAP computer. Work centers that do utilize wireless will have dedicated devices for your work use, grantees will have access to wireless in Crary Lab due to wired infrastructure limitations.

    Plan to bring your own sync cable for your phone, Kindle, etc.. to connect to the network via your laptop. McMurdo IT&C does not provide these adapters or cables.

    Mobile Devices (smartphone or tablet):
    Mobile devices are not allowed to connect to the USAP network unless pre-approved for mission/business support. Grantees wishing to connect a mobile device must submit their request and mission justification via the SIP process. Others wishing to connect must provide a mission justification to the McMurdo Help Desk as to why their mobile device is critical and a laptop or other computer cannot fulfill this purpose.

    Be sure to update mobile apps before deploying to McMurdo as there is no guarantee that your mobile apps will work without a network connection. (Mobile devices will not permitted on the network to download updates.) Please test the apps you plan to use while your device is in airplane mode prior to deploying to Antarctica.

    Using FOBs or Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
    Prepare for (remove or be aware of) any multi-factor authentication that may exist for you to log into your email, bank, bills, etc… from a new computer or network. (This is often via the use of a FOB or other device) Check your personal email provider to see if they require two factor authentication from foreign networks.

    iTunes/Amazon
    Even purchased and downloaded media may require initial authentication on the iTunes server when you try to play media. Test movies and music you purchased while you are still at home or from Christchurch while you are disconnected from the Internet. If you can’t play items, connect to the internet, logon and make sure your items are downloaded. This will not be possible in McMurdo as the Apple services generally will not work over our slow connection.

    iMessage
    iMessage is blocked from McMurdo. Although it does not utilize much bandwidth, technical issues prevent it from working properly.

    Netflix
    Netflix internet traffic is blocked. You will be unable to stream content or order US Mail disks from McMurdo.

    Spotify and Apple Music
    These streaming services require authentication every 30 days for music/content to play. This is the case even if you’ve purchased and downloaded media to your device. These services are blocked from the internet so after 30 days your locally stored media will cease to play. There will be no way to remediate the issue once you are on Ice.

    Personal email (Google, Yahoo, MSN Hotmail)
    We recommend you configure your personal email through a local email client like Mac Mail or Outlook on Windows before you get to McMurdo. Some websites (Like Yahoo or Hotmail) take an exceptionally long time to load due to the videos and images on the home page. If you set up your email prior to arrival, you will be able to use your personal email with more success.

    External Hard drives
    The dry environment in Antarctica creates a large amount of static discharge. If you are using an external hard drive for data or backups, we recommend bringing two duplicates depending on the value of your data. We see about 20-30 failed external hard drives each season.

  • Will my computer fail the screening if I can’t meet the Operating System and Anti-virus requirements?

    Yes.

  • What happens if my computer fails the screening?

    Screening your computer before you leave to the ice is highly recommended. If your computer fails screening while still outside of Antarctica, you can remediate the computer from any internet connection and ask that it be re-screened. If you are already in Antarctica, you may/may not be able to remediate the computer. If you are on station (or vessel) and your computer has failed, contact your local Help Desk or IT&C staff. They may or may not be able to assist. (Update before you leave to make sure you can connect!)

    If your computer is unable to be remediated, you will not pass the screening and will not be allowed to connect to the USAP network.

  • Are there any applications that I have on my computer which could cause me to fail a screening?

    Yes. Refer to your Security Awareness Training and the Enterprise Rules of Behavior to learn specifically what is not allowed to be on your computer. Here is a list of some of the more common applications we find that will cause your computer to fail: Active Peer-to-peer (P2P) software, Email server software, Web server software, Network Management servers (DNS, SNMP), Network port scanners or Penetration tools.

  • Will I have internet access at the USAP stations?

    Yes, however internet access is limited at each USAP site. The satellite infrastructure used to provide off-continent communications in Antarctica is limited. While mission activities can be supported with prior coordination, participants should have no expectations regarding service for non-mission activities. For example, using video chat applications such as Skype or FaceTime or social media applications such as Facebook are restricted since they can impact the bandwidth available for science and operational traffic. Many high-bandwidth/inappropriate sites are blocked or de-prioritized to ensure mission traffic is able to move back and forth. Below is a summary of internet access at each site.

    McMurdo Station
    McMurdo Station has 24/7 access to the internet over a very small (17Mb) link which is shared by the entire McMurdo community. Mission traffic takes priority over this link. The internet can be accessed 24/7 from McMurdo however most sites respond very slow compared to what you may be used to in the US.

    South Pole Station
    South Pole Station has very limited access to the internet during short windows of satellite time. Internet performance is very slow during satellite windows however, basic email and web-surfing is available.

    Palmer Station
    Palmer Station has 24/7 access to the internet over a very small (3Mb) link which is shared by the entire Palmer community and vessels when they are in port. Mission traffic takes priority over this link. The internet can be accessed 24/7 from Palmer however most sites will respond slow compared to what you may be used to in the US.

    Vessels
    Internet access on the Nathaniel B. Palmer and Lawrence M. Gould is provided wirelessly through the iCafe network. This connection utilizes per-user/per-day quotas which will limit the amount of data that can be passed back and forth to the internet. Additional information can be found by contacting helpdesk@usap.gov

  • The internet is slow from Antarctica. What specifically works and does not work?

    All USAP Stations and vessels have varying degrees of off-continent bandwidth and connectivity.  Managing bandwidth to our remote sites allows the prioritization of network traffic directly supporting the life/safety of personnel, the logistics mission of the USAP, and direct science support over all other traffic.  Dynamically allocating bandwidth to personal and morale use occurs when it becomes available. The charts below represent the most requested personal uses of bandwidth, as well as how reliable participants will find these services. 

    • McMurdo Station
      Internet Service/Category Current Reliability
      Internet Browsing (Banking, News, Travel, etc…) Allowed, reliability varies
      Video Chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.) Blocked for general use. Allowed at public kiosk for personal use; for Outreach per SIP Approval
      Streaming (Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) Blocked/Prohibited
      Email - Gmail Allowed, reliable
      Email - Yahoo Allowed, Lite version works reliably
      Email - MSN/Hotmail Allowed, Webmail unreliable; Native email clients work reliably
      Peer to Peer Sharing (Torrents, similar services/clients) Blocked/Prohibited
      Encrypted Tunnel (VPN, SSL, SSH) Blocked for general use. Allowed by exception only for mission support.
      Mobile Device Internet Connectivity (e-Readers, tablets, smartphones, all OSs) Blocked for general use. Allowed by exception only for mission support.
      Cloud Storage Services (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc) Allowed at Public Access Kiosks only
      Cloud Backup Services (Carbonite, Amazon, iCloud) Blocked/Prohibited
      Cloud Hosted Software (Adobe Creative Suite, photo editing, Wordpress, GoPro) Allowed, unreliable
      Internet Chat - iMessage Allowed, unreliable
      Internet Chat - Gmail/Yahoo Allowed, reliable
      Social Media (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) Allowed, reliability varies based on station bandwidth use
      Media Services (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) Allowed, reliability varies based on station bandwidth use
    • South Pole Station
      Internet Service/Category Current Reliability
      Internet Browsing (Banking, News, Travel, etc…) Allowed, reliability varies
      Video Chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.) Blocked for general use. Allowed at public kiosk for personal use (winter only); for Outreach per SIP Approval
      Streaming (Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) Blocked/Prohibited
      Email - Gmail Allowed, reliability varies
      Email - Yahoo Allowed, reliability varies
      Email - MSN/Hotmail Allowed, reliability varies
      Peer to Peer Sharing (Torrents, similar services/clients) Blocked/Prohibited
      Encrypted Tunnel (VPN, SSL, SSH) Blocked for general use. Allowed by exception only for mission support.
      Mobile Device Internet Connectivity (e-Readers, tablets, smartphones, all OSs) Not allowed for general use. Allowed by exception only for mission support.
      Cloud Storage Services (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc) Allowed at Public Access Kiosks only
      Cloud Backup Services (Carbonite, Amazon, iCloud) Blocked/Prohibited
      Cloud Hosted Software (Adobe Creative Suite, photo editing, Wordpress, GoPro) Allowed, unreliable
      Internet Chat - iMessage Allowed, reliability varies
      Internet Chat - Gmail/Yahoo Allowed, reliability varies
      Social Media (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) Allowed, reliability varies
      Media Services (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) Allowed, reliability varies
    • Palmer Station
      Internet Service/Category Current Reliability
      Internet Browsing (Banking, News, Travel, etc…) Allowed, reliability varies
      Video Chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.) Allowed for Outreach per SIP approval
      Streaming (Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) Blocked/Prohibited
      Email - Gmail Allowed, reliable
      Email - Yahoo Allowed, reliable
      Email - MSN/Hotmail Allowed, reliable
      Peer to Peer Sharing (Torrents, similar services/clients) Blocked/Prohibited
      Encrypted Tunnel (VPN, SSL, SSH) Blocked for general use. Allowed by exception only for mission support.
      Mobile Device Internet Connectivity (e-Readers, tablets, smartphones, all OSs) Allowed with mission justification
      Cloud Storage Services (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc) Allowed, reliability varies; Auto-sync must be disabled
      Cloud Backup Services (Carbonite, Amazon, iCloud) Blocked/Prohibited
      Cloud Hosted Software (Adobe Creative Suite, photo editing, Wordpress, GoPro) Allowed, reliability varies
      Internet Chat - iMessage Allowed, reliable
      Internet Chat - Gmail/Yahoo Allowed, reliable
      Social Media (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) Allowed, reliability varies; video auto-play disabled
      Media Services (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) Allowed, reliability varies
    • Vessels
      Internet Service/Category Current Reliability
      Internet Browsing (Banking, News, Travel, etc…) Allowed, reliability varies
      Video Chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.) Allowed, unreliable; not recommended due to data quota use
      Streaming (Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, Hulu, etc.) Allowed, unreliable; not recommended due to data quota use
      Email - Gmail Allowed, reliability varies
      Email - Yahoo Allowed, reliability varies
      Email - MSN/Hotmail Allowed, reliability varies
      Peer to Peer Sharing (Torrents, similar services/clients) Prohibited
      Encrypted Tunnel (VPN, SSL, SSH) Prohibited
      Mobile Device Internet Connectivity (e-Readers, tablets, smartphones, all OSs) Allowed
      Cloud Storage Services (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc) Allowed, unreliable; not recommended due to data quota use
      Cloud Backup Services (Carbonite, Amazon, iCloud) Allowed, unreliable; not recommended due to data quota use
      Cloud Hosted Software (Adobe Creative Suite, photo editing, Wordpress, GoPro) Allowed, unreliable; not recommended due to data quota use
      Internet Chat - iMessage Allowed, reliability varies
      Internet Chat - Gmail/Yahoo Allowed, reliability varies
      Social Media (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) Allowed, reliability varies
      Media Services (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) Allowed, unreliable; not recommended due to data quota use
  • Can I connect my mobile device (smartphone or tablet) to the USAP network?

    Each USAP site has a unique policy on mobile devices depending on infrastructure and available off-continent/ship bandwidth:

    McMurdo Station
    Mobile devices are not allowed to connect to the USAP network unless approved by the NSF via the ASC IT&C department. Grantees wishing to connect a mobile device must submit their request and mission justification via the SIP process. Others wishing to connect must provide a mission justification to the McMurdo Help Desk as to why their mobile device is critical and a laptop or other computer cannot fulfill this purpose. There is very limited infrastructure available to support mobile devices at McMurdo; some requests may not be approved due to lack of infrastructure support. If approved, a mobile device user will be limited to no more than to two devices connected to the network at any given time.

    South Pole Station
    Mobile devices are not allowed to connect to the South Pole network. There is no infrastructure to support these requests.

    Palmer Station
    Mobile devices are allowed to connect to the Palmer network with proper mission justification. Grantees wishing to connect a mobile device must submit their request and mission justification via the SIP process. All others wishing to connect mobile devices should contact the Palmer IT&C staff once they arrive on site.

    Vessels
    Mobile devices are allowed to connect to the Vessel iCafe network wirelessly. There are no wireless options to connect mobile devices to the ship’s network.

  • I am a USAP Participant or Agency, and would like to bring a new technology to the ice, or request services from the Information Technology and Communications department, how do I notify you of my plans?

    Grantee
    Please include the details of your request in your SIP.

    All USAP Agencies
    Please contact the USAP Help Desk at helpdesk@usap.gov. Depending on the request, the Help Desk will either generate a work order to fulfill it, or lead you through the New Service Request process. Resource availability can limit our ability to implement requests so plan on submitting your requests by April for the following Austral summer season. This allows the USAP to ensure they budget and staff properly for any required resources.

    All Other Participants
    Please contact the USAP Help Desk at helpdesk@usap.gov.

  • Where can I get assistance with other USAP IT and Communications questions?

    If you have any further questions, have another FAQ you’d like answered, or suggestions on how we may improve USAP IT&C Service, please contact the USAP Help Desk at helpdesk@usap.gov.

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Curator: Jeffrey Scharf, Antarctic Support Contract   |   NSF Official: Tim Howard, Office of Polar Programs