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Published: Saturday, 8/22/2009

Colleges inoculate computer systems for new semester

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Matt Haschak, director of information security at Bowling Green State University, prepares for the influx of student computers. Matt Haschak, director of information security at Bowling Green State University, prepares for the influx of student computers.
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College students are plugging in at Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo this weekend as they move onto campus for the new school year.

Those thousands of computers that have spent the summer who-knows-where enter the university networks in a relatively seamless process, thanks to the behind-the-scenes efforts of technology officials.

"I start breathing again in probably October," said Matt Haschak, director of BGSU's information technology security and networking.

It's the busiest time of the year for the information technology officials who spend the weeks before school updating and maintaining extensive preventive systems that keep students in the residence halls from distributing viruses when they come to campus for the start of the school year Monday.

BGSU's forensic lab is like something out of a movie with a hand-scanning device for entry, cameras capturing every angle, and several large, flat-screen TVs on the wall streaming network information.

Mr. Haschak calls it the command center and it's where technicians monitor activity on the network, looking for spikes that show someone is trying to hack in, or where a student is involved in illegal peer-to-peer file sharing, or something else that shouldn't be done.

There are more than a dozen firewalls on campus to protect sensitive data, such as personal information of students and staff, and a "network sniffer" like a wiretap that identifies the top activity centers on the network - that should be an e-mail server and not a student computer, Mr. Haschak said.

There are always "bots" trying to get into the systems, which are monitored closely by the administrative staff.

It used to be that universities were easy networks to hack and then those computers would be used for storing pirated music or movies or to override a system, Mr. Haschak said.

Now the biggest concern is identity theft, he said.

Most of the time, students don't know that a virus or something has infected their computer, said Bob Hogle, UT's director of network services.

The university provides students with a free year of antivirus software to help keep their individual computers protected.

And it protects its network by keeping the residents separate from the campus network so students in the dorms aren't on the same system as administrators and faculty.

Another thing that keeps IT professionals busy at the beginning of the school year is the other gadgets students bring with their computers. Routers, for example, that hand out network addresses might interfere with the network address UT gives out, Mr. Hogle said.

"If they're not configured right, they try to do what our central system is doing," he said.

So it's important to monitor that because if it happens, there could be a number of people in a building who can't get onto the network, Mr. Hogle said.

To add to UT's workload, the university is giving new e-mail addresses to students.

All faculty, staff, and students previously had an account designated @utoledo.edu, and now students will be designated with an @rockets.utoledo.edu account.

It will give them more storage space and they can use it forever, making it a great way to keep in touch when they're alumni, Mr. Hogle said.

The students' current e-mail addresses, which are firstname.lastname@utoledo.edu, will be automatically forwarded to their new e-mail address, he said.

BGSU and UT report student move-ins going smoothly.

"Every year you will find a few things where it's, 'Oh, I didn't realize that,'•" Mr. Hogle said. "But so far, so good."

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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