Webshield installed to protect Williams network from viruses

The Office of Information Technology (OIT) will be installing a Webshield and “firewall” on the Williams network in order to better guard it from viruses and hackers breaking into the network. This installation has raised some concerns, however, about students’ privacy and computers.

Dan Mason ’00, a student worker at Jesup, defined firewall and Webshield: “A firewall is a barrier between the local area network (LAN) and the outside world, via the Internet. Firewalls filter incoming traffic such that only authorized transmissions can slip through to get where they need to go. It’s generally used as a protection against hacking from the outside, and against unauthorized usage of student or College computers from the inside. It doesn’t slow down the network at all.”

“The WebShield virus scanner can be placed directly on our Internet connection to screen viruses from incoming and outgoing traffic,” Mason said. “It hasn’t worked so far because McAfee [ the company that makes WebShield] has repeatedly shot themselves in the foot in telling Jesup what equipment to buy for it, but those problems should be resolved now. It is transparent by design, and when it’s working, it doesn’t slow anything down.”

Director of Networks and Systems Information Technology Mark Berman, explained, “Williams is not particularly interesting to a hacker. The major break ins have been to use Williams as a launching off point. The only other reason anyone would want to break into the Williams system is to get back at someone who goes here. The last major break in we had was that someone broke into a student account and launched a denial of service attack to shut down a Californian business’ ability to log onto the Internet. In the process, our connection to the Internet was broken down.”

Berman said, “We are not implementing the firewall like a business would. We want people to exchange information. All the firewall is doing is logging what websites are accessed at Williams. The firewall would only note things that looked suspicious.”

Regarding the WebShield, Berman said, “The WebShield tries to prevent viruses. Presently, we run a lot of virus scans and the addition of the WebShield will just add to that. We strongly encourage people to run virus scanning software.”

The WebShield will also log Internet access, but as Berman noted, “It will record where people go but that information will be totally unavailable to people outside the OIT staff. It wouldn’t be looked at unless we suspected malfeasance.”

He continued, “Malfeasance would include if someone were running a commercial site from the Williams network that was receiving 5000 hits a day. We are not interested in what people are looking at. People should realize that everything you do on a computer that doesn’t deal specifically with your hard drive is logged somewhere. We try to be ethical in what logs we look at but the Internet is still an anarchy and that’s a good thing, in my opinion.”

Patrick Mulligan ’01 echoed Berman’s sentiments. “In the same way that the phone company knows whom you call, there are records about where you logged on,” he said. “There’s no reason for Jesup to care. But you can’t expect privacy when you’re dealing with a public network in the same way that you can’t demand the post office not to know where you’re sending mail.”

Mason offered similar thoughts, saying, “Whatever Jesup logs in the way of accesses will just be for studying network usage and catching hack attempts in progress. You could be a lifetime subscriber to playboy.com and teenxxx.com (or whatever) and Jesup wouldn’t care. They can’t, because we’re all (or most of us are, anyway) of major age. They would merely notice that our Internet connection is being maxed out and buy a second one to go with it. They’re not trying to crack down on our Internet usage or habits, but to make them work faster and better.”

He also noted, “Other schools don’t allow any student servers, restrict Internet access via the firewall (i.e. no ’seditious, libelous, or pornographic’ sites), and the like, none of which seem to be on the plate for us.”