Wi Do U not have Fi? The explanation behind our campus’s frequent Internet blackouts

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By Joshua Ostrer

 

One of the most frequently asked questions on campus thus far this year has been, “What is going on with the Internet?”

Students have had to manage with no Union network for periods of a few hours at a time since the start of the fall term leaving a confused and frustrated student body without the ability to use online resources like Nexus, webwork, and their daily Facebook fix.

What causes the Union network to go down? An email sent out on September 13th to the student body by Ellen Borkowski, CIO of ITS, placed the blame on “wireless printers being brought onto campus,” claiming that that is what appears to be the root cause. “The wireless network was experiencing an unintentional denial of service attack. Devices on the wireless network were sending authorization requests at a rate the infrastructure could not handle causing the system to crash,” said Borkowski.

A denial of service attack is actually the same thing groups like Anonymous, a hacking-activist group, use to bring down websites. However, at its base, a DDoS attack functions by overloading a network with communication requests, limiting a network’s ability to respond to legitimate internet traffic (such as by students) and then making the network so slow it becomes unavailable.

Were printers causing the problem? If it was a Lexmark printer, it might have been. ‘Specifically the Lexmark printers, were the major cause. We identified 4 specific wireless printers that caused the spikes.” said Ellen Borkowski.

ITS “remediated [Lexmark printers] off the network.”

ITS acknowledges that the network issues are quite widespread. “A majority of the campus that uses the Union academic and student network were intermittently without wireless service,” she continued.

If the problem returns, ITS suggests finding an Ethernet cable, and plugging in laptops. “We found that while wireless was down, wired service was mostly uninterrupted. Students could plug into their Ethernet datajacks in their rooms,” was their main suggestion.

ITS also considers itself ready in case such an issue pops up again. “We believe that we have removed the offending devices. Our ability to track down these issues has also been improved so that we can mitigate any future problems,” said Borkowski.

Even though ITS did change the Union network this summer, it was not to blame for the connectivity issues.: “This past summer we upgraded our firewall equipment to a newer, more advanced product. We determined early on that this was not a factor in the issues we experienced at the start of the term.”

Rumors that the Union network’s speeds have been increased over the summer are false. Despite a petition signed by 342 Union students (roughly 15% of campus), no changes have been made thus far.

However, ITS is working on it. “ITS is in the process of requesting funding to address networking issues in the residential facilities. This will in turn allow us to address networking across the campus in academic and administrative buildings,” Borkowski noted.

In short, it is best to grab an Ethernet cable, turn off any wireless printers and wait.

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