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Investigating the University of Guelph Internet Black-out

Friday, November 13, 2015

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  • A distressed student stares at his phone, unable to connect to the internet.

    A distressed student stares at his phone, unable to connect to the internet.

Written by Pegleess Barrios

It was 11:30AM when I noticed the internet wasn't working. As I frantically pressed refresh and tried to upload my report for the hundredth time, I looked around the room to see all my friends staring at their phones with perplexed expressions. "Is it working for you?" I asked, hoping someone had a connection I could leech onto. The consensus was a resounding "no", not a single person in the room could connect to the internet, and so I called my professor and headed outside.

Eventually the connection returned, and we all resumed our online lives. But I was curious to find out what had happened. Had it been an issue with the already-mediocre internet connection? A fluke caused by the inclement weather? Or could it be an attack?

I began by calling X58888 and inquiring with CCS as to what had happened that day. Quinton was assigned to my call, and we chatted a bit about the issue. 

"Anything that's hosted by uoguelph.ca was down." Quinton told us, "That being Courselink, obviously the University of Guelph website, any department websites, all the student websites that are hosted by the uoguelph domain, anything like that."

Although most professors and departments ultimately extended deadlines on submissions to account for the  internet issues, the outage caused a lot of anxiety and stress for many students. Arsalan Syed, a bio-med student, told us about his experience."I was here, in Raithby House, in the SVC room. [The outage] affected me a lot. Some of my classes, I skip them in the mornings because they're at eight thirty, and my profs post them online so you can just watch it on there. So I couldn't get data either, so I just went over my old notes instead." Arsalan was also hosting a meeting that day for a conference planning committee, and usually relies on e-mail or social media sites to contact his team. "I didn't have any of the guys' numbers, but I had their emails, right? So I thought I would email them, like, come to Raithby House, that's where we're having it? But there was no email, so no." 

Another student, Erin, posted on Overheard at Guelph saying, "As much as I understand the whole put away your electronics and talk to each other thing, many students actually rely on the campus internet especially when studying on campus. So that was kinda shitty to have that happen today."

But some students were able to find the silver lining, and many  joked that the internet being down was someone's "random act of kindness" to Guelph students. A highly popular student post said, "I didn't take my laptop to campus today, and coincidently [sic] the internet is not working! I see a lot more students talking, having coffee, socializing , and even studying together rather than sitting with electronics! It's also random act of kindness day, so thank you for the silver lining, ?#‎UoGuelph?!"

And some students were so busy that the outage just passed them by. "On Friday it was RAK Day, so I went to class, and I didn't actually use CourseLink at all during class, so I didn't even notice. And then I was at RAK, so I didn't notice then either. And then I went to the OVC and was actually dissecting chickens to get the brains out of their skulls for my friend's fourth-year research project, so I didn't notice. But I came home and my roommate was complaining about it because she had been trying to do a research project all day and she couldn't access anything. So she was complaining about it but I didn't do any homework the rest of the day so I didn't really even notice."

But what had caused the outage? Quinton, our CCS source, was not sure. "We haven't gotten any official answers about what actually happened or who to blame for the outage." he said, "We know that CourseLink was down for approximately 2 hours? I think it was around three hours, with the outage. And that's all we know. We are going to broadcast the message sometime next week though."

Arsalan had more information. "I saw a guy post it on Yik Yak, it was on Overheard I think? It was a code, he hacked it with a code. It was just a simple DDOS attack. So easy! It was just one guy. That's what it said, one guy takes down the internet." Syed joked that deadlines and stress may have been a motivating factor behind the attack. "Maybe he had an online exam that day." If so, his tactic was effective.

Quinton was quick to reassure me that the incident would not happen again, and if it did, it would be dealt with quickly. "What usually happens is that if anything happens with our network, we have to shut things down. With anything as large as what happened last week, we solve the issue as quickly as we can."

UPDATE:

Dave Whittle, Associate Director, IT Operations and Infrastructure at the University of Guelph reached out to The Cannon with an official statement regarding the incident:

"As you may be aware, the University of Guelph experienced a major network outage on Friday, November 6,2015, starting mid-morning and ending late afternoon. As a result, the campus was without Internet access. Thisresulted in no access to, or use of, UofG systems that have dependencies on Internet capabilities in order to function, including student Gryph Gmail, D2L among others.  This outage would also have impacted users attempting to access systems from off campus.  

 The determined cause of the outage was a result of malicious software with the side effect being the broad impact on our network. We can confirm that the situation is fully mitigated and that, other than the outage itself, we do not anticipate any longer term impacts as a result of this incident.  

 We appreciate the patience and understanding of the campus community and the support of our partners across campus who quickly acted to assist with the challenges and to provide contingency plans to address the impact of the long term outage.  We also want to thank team members within Computing and Communications Services who worked diligently to resolve the problem and who will continue to work on additional and longer term mitigation strategies to ensure we can avoid similar situations in future."

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