Virus attack suspected in network outage

Meranda Watling

Residence hall students returning to campus Monday night found the Internet was broken. Well, the connection to it was.

Kent State’s Internet connection, which is supplied by Time Warner, was out from about 5 p.m. Monday to 10 a.m. yesterday. The outage only affected traffic going off campus; Web sites remained working.

“We’re not 100 percent sure why it was down, although we suspect it was as a result of a (virus) attack on their router originating from this campus,” said Bob Hart, manager of university Network Services.

The network outage affected all of Kent State’s campuses and at least five other companies served by the same Time Warner router, Hart said.

There was a delay in fixing the problem because Network Services initially thought the problem was on Time Warner’s end.

The Internet was out “that long because we believed at first it was a hardware problem and thought Time Warner was working on it,” Hart said. “It was a holiday so [the engineers on duty] were the low-men on the totem pole.

“About 2 a.m. they said ‘We’ll send engineers to work on it at 8 a.m.’ They spent the first four to six hours trying to fix the hardware problem.”

The influx of new students returning to campus and plugging their computers into the network probably caused the outage, Hart said.

Computers are susceptible to viruses if they do not have up-to-date virus removal software or have not installed security patches, Hart said. Many students’ computers are at risk.

“I have whatever they put on my computer last year,” said Katy Roman, junior special education major. “I don’t even know if I’ve ever updated it. It’s constantly scanning, I guess. I’m computer illiterate.”

Engineers have been scanning the network since the connection was restored, searching for infected machines and removing them from the network. So far Network Services have found 27 infected machines, Hart said.

An outage could happen again, he said, but the department is actively monitoring it to try and prevent a further outage. However, he cautioned that they can only scan for viruses they know about.

“There has been twice on our network where we saw attacks that no one else had seen before, where we informed McAfee,” Hart said.

Such attacks are called “day-one attacks” because they hit before virus scanners even know they exist. Sometimes the new viruses are caused by variants of known viruses.

Last fall, Hart said, there was a period where the connection to residence halls would go down every other day because of old hardware. Network Services is currently planning to install a new backbone to the campus Internet.

The department is also buying more bandwidth from another company to allow traffic to flow on either network, so in the future if one connection goes down, the Internet traffic will revert to the other network.

Some residence hall students were more understanding. Andrew Hansen, sophomore art education major, said he was frustrated, but the problem could have been worse.

“It was the first day back,” he said. “So I was busy saying hi to everyone. It was a pain in the butt, but there was plenty to do.”

Contact technology reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected].