WSO updates add space, security

Williams Students Online (WSO) enters the school year with a new server, equipped with increased disk space and better protection from hackers. College Council (CC) gave $4000 for the upgrade, while the Dean’s Office and the Office of Information Technology picked up the rest of the $7000 tab.

CC’s contribution was a particularly important development for WSO, which wants to maintain its status as a student-funded organization. At a CC meeting last year, Bert Leatherman ’00 and Nelson Hioe ’00 stressed that WSO would undermine its independence as a student organization if its funding came primarily from the College.

Students Fritz Stabenau ’02, Steve Wollkind ’01 and Jessica Scott ’01 set up the server, installed the software and updated the old server to function alongside the new one.

During the spring and summer, WSO reached the storage capacity of its system about 20 times, making it impossible for users to read and send email, or execute commands. According to Wollkind, “before the server switch actually happened, we were over 98 percent full on most of our disks, leaving just a hundred megabytes or so for error or emergency.”

Joe Masters ’02, WSO treasurer, attributes lack of space partly to users who “upload 100 to 200 megabytes of mp3s.”

The new server increases WSO’s storage capacity for user files to 36 gigabytes from 16 gigabytes on the old server.

As a precautionary measure, the server implements an automated quota system that limits the amount of disk space allotted to each user. If the size of a user’s files reaches 30 megabytes, he will receive a warning email. When a user reaches 40 megabytes, he or she will no longer be able to send and receive email or use additional disk space. WSO reserves the right to delete a user’s files down to 30 megabytes in case of an emergency.

The new server also gives an additional element of protection to a system that was hacked once last year. Masters said, “the hacker used WSO as a point to transfer data to the other [Internet Service Providers] to a location in Denmark.” No user files were damaged or erased and the system hasn’t been hacked again, but the incident raised questions about the security of the old server.

The many functions performed by WSO, such as email, web page hosting, the online facebook and storage of user files are divided among several networked computers with the new server hosting the user files and the old server hosting web pages and sends and receives mail.

Masters argues that this arrangement is slightly more secure than the old one, because “while you could be able to gain access to all user files if you hacked into WSO, you still wouldn’t be able to do anything to the system that holds all those files.”

User files are still as vulnerable as they were on the old system, but the operating system itself is better protected from attacks.

Even with these modifications, Wollkind acknowledges that “we could be hacked now just as easily as we were then by a skilled person … but no system can be perfectly secure as long as it also wants to provide useful services.”

WSO continues to improve its services and plans to add an automated backup system during the school year. Still, Jeremy Redburn ’03, WSO secretary, believes that “After our major server upgrade this summer, we should be all set through this school year.”