Going rogue: IT officials fight student-run web networks

Technology chiefs usually can find rogue internet connections by scanning dormitories for abnormal frequencies—a technique that can zero in on an unauthorized network within a few yards.

Students can dodge their campus’s IT authorities by turning off their dorm router when they’re done using the internet, eliminating the frequency that officials track down.

The University of Iowa conducted an IT security audit in August 2006 that found 80 rogue networks run by students and faculty members on campus, as first reported by the De Moines Register. The university used “sniffers” that searched for telltale signs of rogue connections and showed which computers they originated from.

Iowa’s wireless network only covered about 15 percent of the campus in 2006, leaving students and professors without instant internet access unless they installed their own routers in dorm rooms and offices.

In the three and a half years since Iowa’s rogue wireless audit, wireless access has become commonplace across campus.

Francis said students found with unauthorized networks “never had any ill intent,” but simply craved uninterrupted internet access that wasn’t available until recently, when the 1,500-student college had campus-wide wireless access installed.

“It wasn’t a huge problem, but we had to find out where those points are,” Francis said. “We knew bad things could happen … and we saw that it was not a fad.”

Francis said Grinnell’s IT staff used a Cisco solution to send out signals that jammed rogue connections. Adding password security, he said, was another layer of protection that made students and faculty log on to Grinnell’s network instead of connecting with any nearby signal.

“Since then, I haven’t really thought about rogue [connections] all that much,” he said.

Chris Stave, system administrator at Drew University in Madison, N.J., said password protection was a simple solution that let students know they were accessing the campus web connection—and not a rogue network down the hall.

Before wireless internet access was available across the Drew campus, Stave said, technology staff members “didn’t allow it, but didn’t stop it.”

“We knew that if we stopped them, we couldn’t provide that kind of wireless coverage [at the time],” he said. “But now, people aren’t even bothering to set up wireless routers, because it’s no longer a problem they need to solve.”


Grinnell College

Drew University

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