(Don’t) plug it in, plug it in

When students first moved back to the College a few weeks ago, they had a lot of things to worry about. Ways to set up their room or getting their books together for classes were among them.

The last thing on anyone’s mind was protecting his or her computer while plugging back into the College’s network. However, within a few hours of move-in, most students found themselves struggling to keep their computers up and running.

As most students came to realize, their computer problems were due to a stream of viruses and worms that hit the College’s network before and during move-in.

New problems arise for computers each day with the development of viruses and worms. Unfortunately, these problems are spread through networks very easily.

According to the College’s Networking and Technical Services Web site, our network connects 31 campus buildings, including 12 residential dorms and 19 academic buildings. Residential Networking Services (RES.net) is responsible for connecting over 4,000 students to this campus backbone network.

Craig Blaha, associate director of Information Policy at the College, pointed out how vulnerable a network can be. “A network is a shared resource, a few infected users can seriously affect the entire network,” Blaha said.

This issue is especially troubling when it comes to worms, because, as the NTS Web site defined them, “they can travel through a network more easily because they don’t require human involvement to spread; a worm is designed to copy itself from one computer to another.”

Christina Rossi, a junior math and secondary education major found her computer giving her issues as soon as she plugged it into the network on move-in day.

“I started getting error messages right away and then my computer would start a countdown to shutdown. Two days later I found out I had a virus on my computer,” she said.

Many other students experienced the same or similar problems. And as convenient as it would be for Information Technology (IT) to wave their hands and make it all go away, they aren’t easy problems to fix. According to Tom Kline, a Computer Information System specialist, controlling and protecting a network is tough job.

“The College’s IT department has a big job ahead of them. The randomness of a campus network makes it susceptible to viruses and trojans. At an office, you can know exactly what is running what, but the heterogeneous environment of a campus network makes it hard to police and control,” Kline said.

Furthermore, the increase in the amount of computer-related problems is making it more difficult for IT departments to keep things under control.

“Problems like this weren’t a big deal before, so IT departments could take care of everything. But now there is so much going on that users have to do their part by getting educated. This is a two-way street,” Kline said.

Blaha agrees that students have to do their part in keeping the network safe.

“Each user needs to make sure the data he or she is sending and receiving is virus free, that he or she is operating system is up to date, and that they are only accepting data from known sources. In other words, update your operating system, install and update anti-virus and a firewall,” he said.

This year’s RES.net contract included an anti-virus policy, which is a new step towards protecting the College’s network.

The policy requires all students to have anti-virus software installed on their computers, because as important as it may seem, a lot of students don’t have it. And for all those who were not protecting their computer, the College made a free version of McAfee VirusScan available to them through the connection application itself.

Even though things are steadily getting back to normal as far as network problems go, this doesn’t mean that you should forget how temperamental your computer was a few weeks ago.

Don’t be lazy. Protect your computer and prevent yourself from getting removed from the network. You’ll be making your life a whole lot easier.