Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
An ominous bulletin appeared in the ITS spring newsletter: “3) Keeping out the riff-raff.” While this announcement is not particularly new or revelatory, it is a reminder that external computers attempt to infect the Swarthmore network daily. The ambiguity of the update had some people, including The Daily Gazette, wondering whether Annoucement Number Three was a sly hint that ITS would be increasing internet security, perhaps to the point of restricting file-sharing sites. The Daily Gazette sat down with Nick Hannon, ITS’s information security analyst, to unearth what exactly this Announcement Number Three meant.
Hannon explains, “I saw that e-mail and I wasn’t sure what it was referring to.” He explained that ITS protects Swarthmore computers by keeping a list of possibly malicious sites and that the only increase he could imagine would be an upswing in this constantly vacillating list.
Hannon also added that the only expansion in ITS security had been an ongoing enhancement, including blocking certain websites and external computers, that is already fully in place. However, Hannon noted there is a slight difference between student and faculty/staff Internet protection. He explained that faculty, who “deal with private matters such as student records and other personal information” have an added security measure on the network. Unlike students, when faculty members surf the web, their computers automatically check each new website for possible infections. Similar to instances where a student tries to visit one of ITS’s blocked websites, if a faculty computer detects any possible harm in a website. it will lose connection to the server.
This enhancement made a big difference recently, when faculty members were blocked from accessing a prominent, Philadelphia-based website, remarked Hannon. Confused faculty members contacted Hannon about the problem, and he discovered that the website had been infected by external computers. He then contacted the website’s managers about the infiltration and personally worked with them to remove the problems.
At the end of the interview, Hannon urged that, “individual community members are the first line of defense when it comes to preventing malware infections,” and that students can keep safe by “making sure their operating system software (OS X, Windows, etc.) is always up to date along with updates for installed applications like those from Adobe, Firefox, QuickTime, Java, etc.”