By Anna Tsiaras
April ended oddly and certainly frustratingly as students continuously searched for ways to access the Internet while on campus. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Sakai, nothing; students didn’t have a chance as one by one they were denied service, left in the dark pleading with professors to extend deadlines.
Fortunately after a long week, Rutgers University has fixed the servers on all three campuses across New Jersey. Services are up and running, although not fast enough to keep students from panicking in the desperate last week of the spring semester.
Rutgers Camden student Malik Harris confessed to thinking he was the source of the problem. Unable to log into his Sakai account two Sundays ago, “I was scared, I thought I was doing good in my classes,” said Harris after finding out by frantically knocking on his roommate’s door that he wasn’t the only one suffering from the issue.
“I personally condemn the malicious attack on Rutgers. It is hard to understand why someone would instigate such a vicious attack,” said Rutgers-Camden Arts and Sciences Dean Kriste Lindenmeyer, as she went onto say “whatever the motivation, this was an attack on our students and faculty.” Later, she assured that Rutgers Camden would be working with faculty and students to do everything possible to address students’ concern as they try to take finals and meet deadlines in the last weeks of school.
Dean Lindenmeyer also assured that guidelines were put into place to help professors better accommodate students’ needs while also implementing a back-up plan for students to receive grades in a timely manner, if access was not reliable.
Although the university central OIT department did not get back for comment, Professor Jim Brown, who teaches in the Digital Studies Department at Rutgers-Camden explained that “a denial of service attack typically involves sending a large number of requests to a server. The server is essentially flooded with so many requests that the resources on that server become unavailable.”
Brown went on to discuss the ethical questions that were raised during this attack. “Our first reaction is often to blame the ‘hacker’ for these problems, since the code they have written is seen as responsible for taking down a network or (in other cases) stealing data. However, responsibility in these cases is not always so easily assigned. In this case, the person attacking certainly bears responsibility, but the Rutgers system itself would (at least in the eyes of the person responsible for this attack) also bear responsibility,” said Brown.
“Oftentimes,” Brown said, “hacks are designed to expose flaws in a platform or in a network, and though there is collateral damage (students and faculty, in this case) hackers are often primarily focused on showing that these flaws often make our data and our networks vulnerable. So, while the person writing this code is certainly responsible for taking down the Rutgers network for a week, it’s likely that this person would view their own actions as ethical, since they have revealed problems with the network security in the campus network.”
It is important to announce that as of now and throughout the attack, no data has been compromised or stolen. Also according to a mass email from Donald Smith, the vice president of OIT and CIO, stated that “OIT and the Rutgers Police Department are actively working in consultation with the FBI and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness to investigate the source of the attacks. Due to the ongoing investigation, we are unable to share additional details.”