It’s a student’s worst nightmare – you wake up one morning to find your computer wallpapered with pop-up ads or frozen with last night’s Google search scrawled across the screen. “It’s frustration, anger and disappointment all at the same time,” Kajal Vora, junior international business major, said.
A rash of new viruses has been creeping into many computer systems on campus. Most students at College turn to the Information Technology department (IT) for help, but few know much about the technology wizards who magically bring new life to a machine with a few quick key strokes. Nor are most students aware of how this vital department keeps the College’s network up and running all year long.
Although it may seem like your computer is under constant siege by bugs, worms and other harmful computer insects, your computer is in fact much safer than you think.
“Our firewalls pretty much block any viruses out there. We actually don’t get attacked as much from off-campus,” Craig Blaha, associate director of information policy, security & Web development, said.
“The viruses come from people plugging in their laptops and bringing something in they had gotten when they were home. So all you need is that one person who’s on the network and has a virus to start a new infection.”
With the Norton Anti-Virus Web site listing that about two new viruses appear daily and the SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security (SANS) security Web site posting a “survival time” for computers as 17 minutes – meaning that 17 minutes after hooking up a computer without any anti-virus software to the Internet it will become infected by a virus – the need for students to protect their computer is of utmost importance for the maintenance of an efficient network system, according to Blaha.
“Students should keep up with the latest anti-virus software and Windows updates. The software you buy is only as good as the last time you update it,” he said.
Still, the IT staff realizes that the campus will probably never be virus-free, even if students try their best to protect their computers individually, so it has developed a multi-layered system to keep students safe and computer hackers on the defensive.
The College might be a small state school, but it’s getting help from some big names both nationally and internationally. In an effort to stay one step ahead of the viruses on the Internet, Blaha said he has signed the College up to a number of listservs that allow him to communicate with other higher education IT departments.
“Universities typically have an open networking environment, which is different from other places,” Blaha said. “We don’t monitor what goes in and out of the network so that causes us to have different issues.”
One server Blaha cites as particularly helpful is EduCause.edu. Its current membership list comprises nearly 1,900 colleges, universities and education organizations and has more than 13,000 active members. Through this organization Blaha said he can post questions to other universities about virus problems the College might be having or simply read other’s posts to get up to speed about what issues higher education institutions are coming across.
“The problem might not be happening here, but if we know about it, we can at least keep an eye out and we’ll know what do if the problem does come up,” Blaha said.
The listservs are therefore helpful in keeping up-to-date on the latest viruses and, as a result, keeps Blaha and other IT staff members a little more sane.
“There’s definitely a lot to it (the job). But once you get up to speed on what’s happening, it’s all a little more manageable,” he said.
Hidden away in the basement catacombs of Green Hall, Shawn Sivy, associate director of networking/technical services, is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle in keeping the school’s computers running virus-free.
Sivy supervises the network activity by interpreting the graphs, which document both incoming and outgoing information from the network.
“If we see unusual patterns and we see that a virus is affecting the network then we’ll investigate further,” Sivy said. “You may see a lot of traffic coming from a particular machine or certain port, so then you investigate what the port is used for and if any viruses are known to use that port.”
Although helping to detect and prevent viruses is only a small part of Sivy’s job description, it is still an important one