Network insecurity -dlh

William Dalsen

Computer Services quickly blamed students for the recent network failure, as was evident from the campus-wide voicemail we received just a few days ago. But the recent network failure was not solely the fault of students, and blaming them exclusively sidesteps an important question: what more could have been done at the network administration level in order to prevent this kind of attack? Both students and network administrators must do more in order to ensure a secure Lawrence network.
Network security is a community effort. Network administrators manage, among other things, firewalls, antivirus software, and Intrusion Detection Systems that alert administrators to attacks, prevent attacks, and manage them if they occur. An IDS is only effective acting in concert with these other measures, but the fact that Lawrence did not have one is somewhat surprising.
An IDS would enable Computer Services to detect attacks against the network, and hence give them time to prevent catastrophic failures of the kind we witnessed first week. Both commercial and open-source IDS programs have been available for several years, and seem to be considered part of the standard regimen used by administrators to fend off attacks. Lawrence should not only explore the possibility of implementing an IDS in order to help prevent future network failure, but also ask why this was never done in the first place.
But students must also act to maintain network security. When we leave school and connect to the internet at home, we may expose our computers to exploits that would normally have been deterred by the Lawrence firewall or by effective antivirus software. If our computers contract viruses while we are at home, and we then reconnect them to the Lawrence network, the virus enters the network from the inside, without much resistance, and wreaks havoc on our internet connections.
Computer Services is correct to insist upon student responsibility, and just as we expect Lawrence-owned machines to operate properly when we sit down in a computer lab, they rightly expect that we take reasonable steps to ensure that our computers do not endanger the network: we must keep our software up-to-date, download the free antivirus software, periodically scan our computers, and employ a healthy measure of common sense when we download files from the web.
Both students and administrators have responsibilities that must be fulfilled in order for the network to function properly. Hopefully recent events will inspire a joint effort to prevent such network failures in the future.