Georgetown University experienced campus-wide Wi-Fi connectivity issues beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday morning.
According to UIS, the outage occurred due to a faulty firewall. Community members experienced intermittent connection to SaxaNet, EduRoam and GuestNet, as well as campus-wide Internet loss for segments of time.
Around 1 p.m., the University Information Services resolved initial network connectivity issues caused by bugs in the firewall. However, by 7:50 p.m., network outages returned and UIS resumed work on fixing the issue. Campus-wide text message alerts were sent out to inform students and faculty of the outage.
The outage has continued as of press time.
According to Interim Deputy Chief Information Officer Beth Ann Bergsmark, UIS is in communication with the firewall’s vendor, Palo Alto Networks, to continuously monitor and evaluate the situation. Palo Alto Networks is continuing to provide technical support to UIS and is prepared to replace the firewall if necessary.
“We have Palo Alto providing senior engineering to review their systems. If we need to replace any of these firewalls, we will do so promptly in a way that does not cause any outages,” Bergsmark said.
The current network connectivity issues are caused by a similar firewall bug that was attributed to a Wi-Fi outage March 1.
Bergsmark explained that the firewall aims to examine all Internet connections for the purpose of protecting the university from viruses and cyberattacks. The current firewall, installed last year to replace an older Cisco model, is a recent upgrade capable of handling newer threats, according to Bergsmark.
“The Cisco firewall blocked about 50 million security threats per month, whereas the Palo Alto [firewall] has been blocking 1 billion threats per month,” Bergsmark said.
Working with Palo Alto, UIS is considering a complete replacement of the university firewall to resolve Internet and connectivity outages all together.
Bergsmark emphasized that the current Internet outage is not related to the cyberattacks the MedStar hospitals in the region have been experiencing. On March 28, the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital experienced a cyberattack and suffered severe system outages.
“This has nothing to do with the outages that have been going at the MedStar health network,” Bergsmark said. “MedStar’s architecture is entirely different from Georgetown. We’re completely separate. That is also why what happened at MedStar did not bleed into our environment.”
Universities are common targets for cyberattacks because of the open nature of their networks. Bergsmark explained that the installation of the new firewall is a proactive step to prevent future intrusions.
“All universities are at risk, we are a large, open environment,” Bergsmark said. “The number of security threats continues to increase. What is critical is that you are proactive.”
UIS attempts to achieve a balance between security from cyber threats and maintaining reliable access to information on the Internet, which Bergsmark said is a crucial challenge for UIS.
“It is very important for us that we’ve got the state-of-the-art best technology to protect against security, but at the same time we have to make sure that that does not disrupt daily operations,” Bergsmark said.
Bergsmark added that during a Wi-Fi outage, individuals on campus do not have viable options to bypass the issue. Additionally, while the outage is campus-wide, Bergsmark stated a few are still able to access the Internet.
“You did see that some individuals might be able to get in,” Bergsmark said. “At any given point in time, maybe only 20 to 40 percent of the traffic at any point in time.”
For students on campus, one of the best ways to assist UIS is to report all issues with network connectivity so UIS can properly identify and address the problem.
“If they experience problems at any time to contact us, we want to be responsive there,” Bergsmark said.
Dan Zager (COL ’18) said the outage prevented him from doing his work and he had to resort to using data on his mobile phone.
“This morning was a nightmare because I woke up early to get work done, but everything was down, so I just hung out for three hours on my phone using up all my data until we finally got Internet and Blackboard back,” Zager said.
Montunrayo Adenuga (COL ’18) said she is disappointed at the quality of campus Wi-Fi and the frequency and duration of outages.
“That is something that shouldn’t be a problem for hours on end, and today isn’t the only time it happens. It happens quite frequently. There are times my Blackboard isn’t working for a week,” Adenuga said. “It’s a little below Georgetown.”
The network connectivity issues have forced Anna Teitler (COL ’18) to go off campus to do her work. She said she wishes students were better updated on the current situation.
“I had to walk to a coffee shop in order to get Internet and send in an assignment,” Teitler said. “It’s very frustrating because when the system is down for an entire day, they do not give us a timeline of when it is going to be coming back on. It’s a detriment for everybody who relies on the system to get everyday work done.”
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.