U checks network for security concerns

The University does not search for private content unless it receives a legal order.

Aidan M. Anderson

With more than 6,000 students living in University housing, privacy might seem like an absurd concept. But students do expect it, not only in their personal space, but also on their personal computers.

While the University regularly monitors the residential hall network for traffic and security, the content ” actual pages and images sought by those surfing ” normally are not monitored, according to its online privacy statement.

Any monitoring of content would be incidental, said Ken Hanna, security and assurance director for the University. For example, they might see content if the Office of Information Technology looked into a virus infection or a security concern and happened across it, he said.

University senior Lucas Nease said he’s not concerned about the University looking in on his network activity or hard drive and understands the need to keep tabs on such a vast system.

“It’s give a little, take a little,” he said. “We’re all using the University’s network and they need to make sure nothing bad is going on.”

The primary reason for network monitoring is to ensure activity by a small number of users doesn’t compromise access to the network by everyone else, said Jill Froehlich, information technology supervisor for Housing and Residential Life.

“It’s about being a good citizen of the network so everybody can use it,” Froehlich said.

Students’ hard drives are not specifically searched by network monitors, but public folders or drives can be viewed the same way a casual user would search them.

A student with such public places on his or her computer will be contacted by the Office of Information Technology and urged to either password-protect or turn off the public feature of those drives or folders, Hanna said.

Public folders or drives can represent vulnerabilities and the goal is to protect and educate students, Froehlich said.

The Office of Information Technology could be prompted to investigate a student’s online activity, but would do so only if legally ordered, Hanna said. And that hasn’t happened recently.

Legal orders to search online activity sometimes come when a student has been downloading copyrighted content without permission, such as music or movies. If the plaintiff, usually the Recording Industry Association of America, has its legal paperwork straight, a student can be identified by the address of his or her hardware. The University can then be compelled to turn over the student’s name, Hanna said.

Policy enforcement might appear to walk the line between network regulation and privacy concerns, but it is done in part to keep the network functional for all ResNet users.

“(The Office of Information Technology) monitors very regularly and they communicate with us when they find a breach in policy, and we address those,” said Wachen Anderson, judicial affairs coordinator for Housing and Residential Life.

Violations of the policy typically result in temporary suspension of network privileges, according to the ResNet information page. But the residential life judicial affairs office has the final say in such issues.

Monitoring of ResNet activity has led to a significant decrease in technology problems, Froehlich said.