Aftermath of DDoS attacks continue to inconvenience students
Rutgers has been hit by five Distributed Denial of Service attacks over the last year. Not being able to use Sakai or even access the Internet is an inconvenience most students are familiar with. For some international students, these DDoS attacks mean they can no longer access websites from their motherland.
Bohong Chen, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he is unable to access websites in China when using an on-campus network such as RUWireless or RUWireless_Secure.
“I went to school and tried to connect to a Chinese (web) application and that failed to connect,” he said.
The Rutgers Network Operations Center (NOC) announced at the end of September that country blocks have been put in place for China, Vietnam and Brazil through their net-people mailing list.
Network maintenance, repair and upgrades are announced through this mailing list, which users must subscribe to in order to see.
Chen said he has not received any official word explaining why access was restricted or how long it might take to see it restored.
“I contacted the OIT Department via email, but (I) didn’t (get) any response,” he said.
Yuting Qiao, a School of Engineering junior, said she both called and emailed OIT. She received no response via email. OIT did pick up when she called though.
“They really confused me (on the phone) because they didn’t give me a date (for when access would be restored),” she said. “No supervisor from OIT (spoke) to me.”
The office has not gotten back to her about her concerns yet, she said.
Access was first blocked a week or so ago, she said. Before the latest DDoS attack she was able to access Chinese websites with no problems.
“I was not the first, but I (was with) the first group of people to find this phenomenon because I went to log into my WeChat (in the morning) and found I (could) not log in,” she said.
She was initially told about the block by her friend, she said.
Qiao said she uses a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to connect with her friends and family while on a University network. This service costs her only 5 dollars a month.
This is on top of her school fees, which include computer services, including Internet access, she said.
“We need to pay more but it’s not our responsibility to pay more,” she said. “We (are not) satisfied by the service (we receive).”
Many sites or programs that people use to keep in touch with their friends are blocked in China, including Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp, Chen said. Most people use apps like WeChat to connect with their family and friends.
These apps are no longer functional on campus, he said.
Chen said he also needs to connect with Chinese websites to keep up with events in his hometown.
“My hometown is not a big city, so there are not many English news articles about it,” he said.
Being unable to access email on campus with no warning was very inconvenient, said Lingyi Chen, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. Her primary email account is through 126.com, a Chinese server.
This forced her to use her cell phone’s data plan, she said.
Normally she tries to contact her family and friends through WeChat or similar services, she said.
Qiao said she also uses her data plan to access these sites, which is not much of a problem unless she wants to watch a video or see messages from her friends.
Many students in the Asian Studies program also need to access Chinese websites for research, Chen said. There are many databases that are now blocked at the University.
Qiao said one of her friends used to log onto one such database to find historical documents, which is part of his studies. He is now required to travel off-campus to work on his papers.
Networks found in downtown New Brunswick allow Chen to access the sites he cannot use at the University, he said.
Don Smith, Vice President of OIT, said after the March 28 DDoS attack that the source seemed to be China and Eastern Europe in an email sent to the RU_IT mailing list.
This mailing list is comprised of network and web administrators within the University, and is also subscribed to voluntarily.
No “breach of confidential information” was detected at the time, he said.
Chen said what upsets him most is the lack of communication from OIT or the Network Operations Center.
“I feel like this is about respect,” he said. “If the school notified us in detail and said the (culprit) was using a Chinese network to attack us and they had no choice but to temporarily shut down access, I would totally understand.”
He came to Rutgers to major in Information Technology (IT) and understands how network issues may be handled, he said.
“I do understand the concept behind a DDoS so I know it’s very hard to defend against,” he said. “I just feel very frustrated the administration did not notify us.”
Blocking every website and server in an entire country was “ridiculous,” Qiao said.
This resulted in the creation of more victims from the DDoS attacks, she said.
“If they informed us first it would not be a problem,” she said. “It makes me very confused (that they did not inform) us.”
Rutgers NOC did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
“When the Chinese government blocked websites it (upset) students,” Chen said. “So we came here only to find (websites are) also blocked.”