The war on internet malware is causing frustration for many on EMU’s campus. Recently, sites including the University of Virginia archives, humor site “Dorkly”, and streaming service “Watch Cartoon Online,” have all been blocked for several hours by EMU internet security.
According to Associate Director of Technology Systems Ben Beachy, this is mainly due to Cisco, the company that provides EMU’s firewall. Said Beachy, “Cisco analyzes all the information they receive and updates a database of specific web sites and applications that could harm computers and users on EMU’s network. Our firewall automatically updates itself against that database multiple times each day.”
Beachy further stated the probable reasons for Cisco to block harmless websites. These reasons included a website being hacked to serve malware, a website unintentionally hosting advertisements for malware, and users being redirected from a legitimate site to an illegitimate copy.
Beachy acknowledged that any attempt at keeping students away from potentially dangerous websites is not always feasible, saying, “any attempt to identify and block malware leads to a cat-and-mouse game: those distributing the malware want to avoid being blocked and frequently change how and where they’re distributing it. Those trying to block the malware (like Cisco) try to identify the new locations and unblock the old. That’s why you see various sites being blocked for a day, or a few hours, and then being unblocked.”
The fact that EMU’s internet security is managed from outside of the school means that blocked sites do not result from frequent visits by EMU students. Said Beachy, “We don’t watch web traffic ourselves and none of the information Cisco receives can identify specific people at EMU.”
These explanations, however, provide little comfort for students who find themselves blocked from harmless websites due to mistakes that Cisco made when updating its database. After being blocked from “Dorkly”, Senior Bude Bude complained, “It has gotten ridiculous. I don’t know how they decide on these websites, but they’re wrong so often.”
The outages of some websites, like the University of Virginia’s archives, have also caused problems for students who need access to this academic resource in order to complete school work. According to Beachy, this problem has been encountered before and information systems has a system in place to deal with it. When a website is wrongly blocked by EMU’s firewall, Beachy recommends that students contact the EMU helpdesk at email@example.com or 540-432-4357. Said Beachy, “We can and do unblock sites when Cisco gets it wrong.”
-David Yoder, Co-Editor In Chief
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