Frustration on campus growing in light of Dal wireless, cybersecurity issues

Dal ITS has struggled over the summer and with the beginning of the school year to get everything back on track

Since classes began on Sept. 6, Dal students have been experiencing issues connecting to Dalhousie University’s Wi-Fi network. This caps off a summer when Dal’s information technology services (ITS) requested students and faculty change their NetID passwords, following a “cybersecurity issue” reported to the Dal community on July 18. 

Its report said no personal data was leaked, but a password change was necessary “for security reasons.” The nature of the issue was not elaborated on in their memo.

Students and faculty had until Aug. 15 to change the passwords on their accounts or risk being locked out entirely. Some have voiced their displeasure online.

“It’s never been anywhere near this bad,” said a fifth-year industrial engineering student on the r/Dalhousie subreddit. The post, from Sept. 20, acknowledges campus wireless speeds slow every year in September. But many users agree there’s something different this time around.

User u/aparnamohan said in the same post they were relying on phone data for internet use on campus.

Dal and University of King’s College administrators sent emails to students on Sept. 8, the third day of classes, acknowledging the issue. The memo went no further than describing internet speeds as a “campus-wide issue.”

Days later on Sept. 13, Dal sent out another email explaining a possible reason for the issues: that devices connecting to campus access points have “more than doubled” compared to pre-pandemic connections. The email also requested students disconnect devices “not required for teaching, learning, research or administration.”

The university maintains a status page tracking disruptions in wireless and telephone services on campus. Dal has reported wireless disruptions almost every day in September.

In an email interview, Jody Couch, the chief information officer and assistant vice-president of ITS, spoke to the cybersecurity issue in the summer and wireless issues now.

“Dalhousie did experience a cybersecurity issue this summer,” she said. “Information technology staff across campus reacted immediately upon detecting the incident and took steps to secure our systems and mitigate the impact to operations.”

As for internet issues, Couch had no new information.

“We are aware that it’s incredibly challenging to begin a semester with issues with the network,” she said.

Dal ITS revealed on July 18 it was hit by a “cybersecurity issue.” Since then, other issues have arisen such as reduced internet access on campus. (Unsplash)

Speculation of outage reasons online

There has been speculation as to what is causing the problem. One potential issue, said Reddit user u/DISP-er, is problems between Dal’s core wireless router and its links to outside networks Dal connects with from Bell Aliant, Eastlink and others. The user said they are a master of science student at Dal.

A user who said they are a Dal employee on the same Reddit page, u/hume_reddit, said Dal could be the target of distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS). This means someone from the outside Dal’s network is disrupting Dal’s Wi-Fi systems or flooding the system, making the connections unstable or unavailable.

ITS was asked about the nature of the cybersecurity issues but refused to comment more beyond what was said in its memos.

Despite efforts made by ITS to get students to restrict connecting to Dal’s networks, Wi-Fi has failed to improve. On Sept. 21, there was a total server outage, according to the ITS server status page. This suggests issues with connectivity on campus are not just caused by students overloading the system, and the presence of other issues with the network is likely.

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Maria Collins

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