Georgetown’s Wi-Fi outage on March 31 was the result of a cyberattack launched against the university, according to interim Vice President and Chief Information Officer of UIS Judd Nicholson.
Nicholson said the cyberattack overwhelmed university firewalls causing disrupted Internet service.
“Our outage occurred because our network firewalls were unable to handle an exponential surge in network traffic and that is characterized as a cyberattack,” Nicholson said.
UIS discovered the cyberattack a couple days after the initial outage and has reported the attack to GUPD. Chief of Public Safety Jay Gruber said he received word of the cyberattack Monday. The perpetrator of the cyberattack is not yet known.
According to UIS, the cyberattack was unrelated to the MedStar hack, which affected Georgetown University Medical Center’s operations this week.
Nicholson identified the cyberattack as a “denial of service attack,” which caused the firewall to respond by blocking Internet connectivity to protect critical data.
“The large influx of network traffic caused our firewall to basically to drop all of the connects and to block all of the traffic,” Nicholson said. “It keeps everyone out of our infrastructure, but it also basically disrupts our online connectivity.”
According to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team’s website, a “denial of service attack” occurs when an attack floods a server with so many requests that the network fails to process them and crashes as a result.
Nicholson said the university network had functioned as intended in response to the cyberattack by shutting off Internet access.
According to Nicholson, no data was compromised and there was no lasting damage.
“It did what it was designed to do. It was designed to recognize this flood of traffic and to shut it down so it didn’t get into the enterprise,” Nicholson said.
Gruber said the large amount of evidence to process led GUPD to begin working with the FBI for assistance in the investigation, since the deal with many similar incidents across the country.
“It is a lot of information to glean through and we need federal support at this point in time. We will see how the FBI will help us out,” Gruber said. “There are a lot of these types of incidents that happen nationally, so we will work with them to see where we fit in.”
Nicholson said UIS is continuing to work to update the firewall to prevent similar incidents, and vendors and external consultants are working with UIS to update the firewall and review overall network security.
“We are taking the opportunity to bring in our vendors, like our Cisco vendors, and look at our entire Wi-Fi infrastructure and look at ways we could improve it,” Nicholson said. “Our goal is so that we have better processes and mechanisms to deal with it so that we don’t experience a whole institutional outage.”
Although the outage is over, Wi-Fi throughout campus continues to be unreliable and slow.
Nicholson said UIS is continuing to investigate the network but has not discovered the cause of these issues.
“We are still investigating,” Nicholson said. “We are dedicated to working this out because it is unacceptable.”
GUSA Chair of Technology Yafet Negash (COL ’19) said that the lack of dialogue between GUSA and UIS has led to diminished communication to students about Wi-Fi issues.
“The ambiguity surrounding the state of the Georgetown wireless network recently stems from the fact that there has not been much admin-student discussion around technology these past few months,” Negash wrote in an email to The Hoya.
GUSA intends to reform the Student Technology Advisor Board to allow for a better dialogue to be established between UIS and students.
GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) said she plans to have regular discussions with UIS to keep students and the administration up-to-date on all relevant information and concerns.
“Regular meeting times will help students check on the status of various projects and initiatives, as well as provide feedback and complaints for UIS to take into consideration,” Khan wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Nicholson said UIS has not been able to reach out to students effectively using social media when it comes to technology-related issues and hopes it can play a more active role in the future.
“We don’t do a good job of monitoring those social media outlets or enabling that two-way communication between students and my department,” Nicholson said. “We are very reactive now and we need to be more proactive.”
Nicholson currently uses Twitter to send out updates on technology related issues at his handle @GU_UIS.
Blake Spangler (MSB ’19) said the Wi-Fi outage prevented him from properly completing his schoolwork.
“I had a paper due that morning, and it made printing impossible. I had to find the only person in my dorm with a printer at 8:45 a.m. in the morning and had to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot with my phone in order to submit the essay to Blackboard,” Spangler said.
Dion Hipolito (COL ’18) said he was disappointed in the university’s response to the Wi-Fi outage and stated the university should have been better prepared for such a situation.
“I think there should have been proper parameters set up for these kind of situations because as students of an elite university, we should have access these sort of things,” Hipolito said.
Hoya Staff Writer Jack Lynch contributed reporting.
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